Why You Need to Start Saying No

The late Steve Jobs once said: “Focus is about saying no.”

For such a small, two-letter word, “no” is not easy to say, and it can be difficult to determine when to say no.

All too often we think if we turn something down we’ll sound selfish. It’s actually the opposite. When we say no to new commitments, we honor our existing ones and are able to devote the time and attention we originally planned.

It may sound like a cliché pep talk, but when you’re confronted with an opportunity, it’s easy to overlook the reasons you can (and should) say no:
• You are not the only one capable of completing XYZ.
• You have current commitments and obligations.
• You have control of your life and decisions.
• You have the right to think of yourself first.
• You are as important as everyone else.
• Your time, energy and happiness are valuable.

Whether the request is coming from a close friend, family member or boss, determining when to say no can be tricky.

To decide if accepting or declining is the right move for you, ask yourself these questions:

1. Will this take away from my current commitments?
Your prior obligations should come first. There will be times when emergencies happen that require your attention but, more often than not, if your schedule is already booked – you’re booked.

2. Will it still cause me unnecessary stress?
Unless the task in question takes less than five minutes, it will take time out of your day and routine to do. And if the time it requires is more than you can allow, pass on it. Don’t waste your time (or the requester’s) on something you won’t be able to give the right amount of attention to.

3. Am I considering this just to be nice?
Saying no doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make you mean, hateful or egotistical. You’re the only one looking out for yourself – act like it.

4. Will I resent saying yes?
We’ve all said yes to that close friend because we felt bad and wanted to help only to later regret it (and maybe even resent being placed in the situation). Don’t risk a strong relationship or friendship because of pity.

5. Is this outside of my realm of responsibility?
Example: Last year you served on a nonprofit’s young professionals board but you don’t have the time or desire to do so this year. The truth is you’re not the only one capable of advocating for that nonprofit. Remember the phrase: If you give an inch, they’ll take a mile.

6. Would this person say yes if the tables were turned?
Be honest and ask yourself if they would do the same for you. It doesn’t need to be 50/50, but whether you’re talking about colleagues or friends, you owe it to yourself to get fair treatment.

7. How will this benefit me?
Go ahead and think: Does this task align with my goals and values? Better yet, ask yourself: “Why do I feel obligated to say yes?” Getting to the why will ultimately help you determine if it makes sense for you to make the commitment or not.

While some of these questions may sound presumptuous, it’s important to remember: You have the right to say no and not feel guilty for it.

Ready to say it? Follow these six steps:

Find a phrase that works for you and practice it until it’s natural:
• “If you’re asking for an answer now, I’m going to have to say no.”
• “I appreciate the opportunity, but I’m going to have to pass.”
• “Let me check my schedule and get back to you.”

Say it in as few words as possible. Remember: less is best.

Monitor your body language and don’t apologize.

Don’t fabricate reasons to get out of it. Be truthful in your response.

Be prepared to become a broken record. Keep your responses consistent if you’re again even after you initially decline.

If necessary, be ready to give an alternative solution:
• “I apologize if you were counting on me. How can I make it up to you?”
• “I’m doing X, Y and Z. Which would you like me to put on the backburner?”

Saying no gets easier with time and practice, and the power it holds is massive. Just remember: There’s nothing wrong with saying it.

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Abby Downs

Abby Downs is a St. Louis native and professional writer. If she doesn’t have a pen in her hand, it’s a camera. When she’s not busy combining these two loves, she can be found binge-watching 90s sitcoms, trying new cheeses and planning her next big adventure.