As a people pleaser, I know a few things about saying yes too much. I want to be helpful, and so I appreciate being asked. I also like doing lots of things! But eventually, I got to the point where it was beyond too much. That’s when I started learning how to say no nicely, and my life took a turn for the better.
You might have heard: ‘No is a complete sentence.’ This is true. You are allowed to say no without justifying. However, it turns out people aren’t all that happy when you just say no. And if it’s your boss who’s asking? Well, you might need to follow that up with a few more words if you want to hold on to that job.
Fall is a great time to practice, as school and work ramp back up after summer. If you feel like you are being bombarded with requests and you’re watching any hope of free time disappear, then now is the time to say no.
And if you struggle with it—like I used to—let me provide a few pointers that might help!
Soften the Blow
If you want to deliver a firm no with soft edges, try one of these.
- Not this. If you’re being asked to join a larger endeavor or something long-term like a committee, maybe there is a smaller way you can contribute. Offer to volunteer at their next event, or even make a small financial contribution instead. This lets them know that you value the work being done, even if you can’t commit fully.
- Not now. Too busy? It’s okay to tell people that! Just let them know that what they are asking for can’t fit in your schedule at the moment, but you’d like to reconnect down the road. If it is something you really want to do but just don’t have time for, then think about how you can work it in at a later date by saying no to other things instead.
- Not me. Don’t think you’re the best person for the request? Politely decline, but recommend someone else who might be a better fit. Just be sure not to send them your other people-pleasing, yes-woman friends. They need your help saving them from themselves!
Stay Honest and Brief
It’s okay to say no, I promise (as I learned, it’s not a four-letter word!). Perhaps at work what gets assigned to you is really not up for discussion, which means you’ll need to be extra careful about what else you take on. Or you may want to ask your boss what other projects might be reprioritized to make space for this new assignment.
You can be honest with people and simply say ‘I’d love to, but I just can’t right now.’ I’m continually amazed how easily people accept this answer; turns out lots of people are expecting you to say no! And they appreciate the candor, instead of you overcommitting and under-delivering.
No need to lie or make up excuses, just bow out and offer one of the short and sweet alternatives above. If you went to school in the 1980s, you know a thing or two about just saying no. Now’s the time to make it work for you!