Half of the troubles of this life can be traced back to saying “yes” too quickly and not saying “no” soon enough.
Self-Respect: The Key to Saying NO!
Do you find it difficult to say NO when someone asks for your time? Do you typically say YES and then later regret the fact that it should have been a NO? Or do you simply feel obliged to say YES even if it impedes on your ability to get things done?
There are many people who often want to say NO but feel obliged to say YES. Saying NO is just difficult. In fact, saying NO often leads to feelings of guilt, and nobody wants to feel this way. Saying YES is therefore often the only option. After all we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, and we certainly don’t want to be viewed as being selfish. As a matter a fact, we want to be as helpful as possible and saying YES allows us to build deeper bonds and relationships with those around us, right? Well, the answer to that questions is both a YES and a NO. Let me explain…
Yes, it is certainly true that by being cooperative helps us build stronger social bonds with those around us. Friendships are often built upon a level of cooperation that helps both parties get what they want from the relationship. However, another aspect of strong social bonds comes in the form of respect. And people often respect those who have a strong level of self-respect and self-worth.
When you have a high level of self-respect and self-worth you also have a very clear set of boundaries. These boundaries come in the form of standards and expectations you set for yourself. In other words, they become rules that you live by. Adhering to these rules helps you maintain high levels of self-worth and self-respect. Other people might not always like these rules, but over time they come to respect them — respecting you in the process.
How much do you truly value your time?
The reality of life is that everyone faces problems. In fact, we all deal with numerous problems each and every day. But who’s to say that your problems are more important than another person’s problems, or that their problems are more urgent than your own?
For each individual their problems are often more significant than anybody else’s problems. And that’s where the urgency comes into play. Everyone wants to solve their problems as fast as possible, and by asking for your help people seek to ease their burdens in an attempt to free up their own time.
When you help another person solve their problems you are at that very moment robbing yourself of the time you need to work through your own problems or achieve your personal goals.
Yes, what other people are going through might be important, but who’s to say that what you’re going through isn’t as or even more important?
Have a think about the problems that you are currently working through and the goals you are trying to achieve. What will happen when you successfully achieve that goal or work through that problem? How is it likely to impact your life? How is it likely to impact other people’s lives? How is it likely to benefit those around you?
As can see, saying NO doesn’t mean that you are being selfish. In fact, saying NO at times could be the most selfless act you can make. It not only shows that you respect yourself and value your time, but it also shows that you are thinking beyond the present moment — taking into consideration the future impact of your current decisions and actions.
Yes, of course it’s important to help those around you. Helping other people is part of human nature and is critical for strengthening your social bonds. However, the reality is that you can’t realistically help everyone or commit to everything. And if you try, you might end up in a world of bother.
By all means, try to help other people work through their problems and achieve their goals and objectives. However, remember that over-committing to something can cost you in the long-run. It can certainly cost you time, effort, and money. But more importantly it can also hurt your reputation and ability to be dependable, reliable and trustworthy if you are unable to keep your commitments.
By constantly saying YES to people you are putting yourself in a precarious position. Firstly, you’re not focusing on improving your own life, and secondly you’re potentially hurting your own reputation if you are unable to fully commit and deliver the results that others expect of you. This can then potentially lead to feelings of resentment, regret, guilt, frustration and overwhelm.
You’re really not doing anyone any favors (including yourself) by saying YES to every request that people make of you. In fact, in the long-run you might only be hurting yourself and others. The key therefore is to find a balance where you make the time to focus on your own personal goals and priorities, while also allocating enough time for other people. And all this of course requires having very clear boundaries.
When You Just Can’t Say No…
If you consistently find it very difficult to say NO, it could signify that you are lacking in self-confidence or have low self-worth. Moreover, an inability to say NO could stem from fear. You might for instance fear conflict or rejection. Or potentially you fear saying NO because of the opportunities you might miss out on. Or maybe you just don’t want to let people down.
For the most part, life is quite unpredictable and uncertain. But one certainty that does exist is that you will never make everyone happy. Whether you say YES or NO, doesn’t guarantee that you will make people feel how they want to feel. In fact, many times, saying NO actually does the other person a favor because it puts responsibility back in their hands, which serves them in the long-run.
Opportunities come and go all the time. If you’re saying YES because you don’t want to miss out on these opportunities, then just consider the opportunities you might miss out on by not focusing on your own life, goals and problems. What opportunities might you miss out on there?
As mentioned above, your inability to say NO could very well signify a lack of self-confidence. Saying YES provides you with a natural boost of confidence that you get from the other person. However, this isn’t real self-confidence. Real self-confidence comes from within yourself. It doesn’t require validation or approval from another person. It’s therefore short-lived and impermanent.
Choose instead from this point onward to build self-confidence from within. Only then will you develop the true self-confidence you need to find the perfect balance between focusing on your life, while also giving others the support they need.
The Advantages of Saying No!
Before we get into specific guidelines on how to say NO, let’s first take a look at the true value that saying NO can bring to your life.
Saying NO more often means you’re putting yourself first. You become the number one priority in your own life. If you don’t look after YOU first, then other people will simply not get the best of YOU when it comes time to helping them.
When you say NO to something, you are at that very moment saying YES to something else. That something else might come in the form of your dreams and aspirations. In other words, you are freeing up space in your own life to accomplish your own goals and objectives. Moreover, you are freeing up time to solve your own problems, or to simply spend time looking after yourself through rest, recreation or exercise.
Saying NO means that you are choosing to keep your life balanced. Having too many commitments and being at the whim of other people’s requests, means that you don’t have direct control over your own life and responsibilities. Moreover, it shows very little self-respect for where your time goes and the priorities you set.
Finally, when you say NO it means that you value your own personal boundaries, by not allowing other people to encroach on them. You have boundaries for a reason. They are designed to protect your self-esteem, energy and provide you the space you need to live your life on your own terms. Your boundaries are therefore of incredible value and will serve you well over the long-haul.
Five Steps that will Make it Easy to Say No!
Let’s now take a look at a five step process that will help you to say NO without guilt or shame. This process won’t provide you with exactly how to say NO. We will get into that within the final section of this article. But what it will do is provide you with a series of steps you can follow that will help you protect your personal boundaries.
Step 1: Know What’s at Stake
Before you say YES to anything, it’s important to understand what’s actually at stake. For instance, consider the priorities and goals you have that deserve your focus and attention. Also take into consideration your boundaries, and whether or not this is a moment where you need to stand your ground to protect them.
All this of course comes down to an opportunity cost. An opportunity cost is a dilemma you face where making one choice means you forgo another choice. As a result you miss the opportunities that come with making that alternate choice. To make this process a little easier, ask yourself the following questions:
If I say YES to this, what am I saying NO to?
What will I not be able to do as a result?
How will this choice impact my priorities?
What are the long-term implications of saying YES to this?
What’s the best use of my time right now?
Asking these questions will help you to put things into perspective, which will allow you to make a better choice in the moment of whether to say YES or NO.
Step 2: Delay Your Response
At times it’s difficult to make decisions on the spot. Things are not always clear cut, even after you have asked the above questions.
In such instances, it’s important to give yourself a little more time. Have a chat with the other person and inform them that this is an important decision and that you would like a little more time to think about it. Let them know that you will get back to them as soon as you have made up your mind.
At times, the pressure of having someone stand over you while you make a decision will typically sway a person to say YES. However, the moment you walk away from the interaction and take time to reflect on what’s actually at stake, that is when you gain the clarity you need to make an effective decision moving forward.
In the end you don’t want to be the guy or girl who said YES to something that they later ended up regretting. Saying YES and then not being able to honor your commitment has deeper negative consequences for the other person than if you originally gave them NO.
Step 3: Say NO Using the Sandwich Technique
Let’s say that after a period of self-reflection you decide to say NO. In such an instance it’s helpful to use a three step technique that won’t leave the other person feeling dejected. The technique is called The Sandwich Technique.
The Sandwich Technique works in the following way:
- Firstly, make a positive statement.
- Secondly, politely say NO with a reason.
- Thirdly, make another positive statement.
So, for instance you might say the following using The Sandwich Technique:
(1) Thanks Sarah, I appreciate that you would ask me to help you with this. It’s always a great pleasure to support you anyway I can. (2) Regretfully though I would be unable to help you out at this time as I have a ton of work on my plate and urgent deadlines to meet. (3) I do however recall how capable you are in these situations and I’m confident that you will get the work done on time.
The Sandwich Technique in this instance helped Sarah understand that you appreciate the fact that she asked for your assistance. You then politely said NO while also providing a valid reason supporting your answer, and you concluded by giving her some positive words of encouragement that left her feeling good about herself.
In the end, even though you said NO, you didn’t leave Sarah feeling emotionally deflated after the interaction. Yes, she might not have gotten what she wanted, but when all’s said and done she may very well get what’s best for her in the end.
Step 4: Provide Alternate Solutions
Now, of course if you notice that Sarah has taken the rejection rather harshly, you might want to soften the emotional blow a little by providing her with some realistic solutions or options.
You may for instance suggest that Barry was looking to get involved in a similar project and might be able to help her out. Possibly you may even have a chat with Barry on her behalf to see if you can persuade him to get on board.
Alternatively, you might throw in a suggestion that will help her to work through her task more effectively. You could for instance tell her about your experience working through something similar, and then provide her with several guidelines that will help her out.
Another possibility is to provide Sarah with some helpful resources or tools that could be of value.
The fact that you are going the extra length to help her out in this way shows her that you care. As a result she won’t feel as dejected as she typically would if you just said NO and walked away from the situation.
There are however some words of caution here. A little guidance on your part doesn’t mean that you are committing to help her out. However, small decisions such as this can lead to bigger decisions and commitments down the line, and before you know it you have fully committed to supporting her. Be very careful to ensure that you stand firm on your boundaries, as this is the easiest way for people to take advantage of you.
Step 5: Stand Firm and Protect Your Boundaries
In another scenario, Sarah is rather persistent and doesn’t want to take NO for an answer. And so she nags you and continues to plead with you to help her out just this one time.
This is where you need to firmly stand your ground. A few moments ago you told her NO. If you negate on this, then yes it will make Sarah very happy, but in a ways you will lose a little respect in her eyes. Moreover, it teaches Sarah that you don’t have very firm boundaries. In other words, NO actually means YES with a little persistent effort.
What typically happens over time is that Sarah progressively loses respect for you as a person because of your inability to stick to the decisions you make. And mind you, this is very subtle and happens over an extended period of time. In fact, this cycle is the quickest way to becoming a doormat, where you give the green light for people to walk all over you, anytime they want. And of course, the more times you get caught up in this cycle the easier it is for people to continue taking advantage of you. And before you know it all your goals and priorities have taken a backseat as a result of the choices you have made.
With this five step process in mind, here are some additional guidelines for saying NO.
First of all, avoid being overly apologetic. You have nothing to apologize for. An overdone apology can come across as insincere and may end up hurting your relationships with this other person. Just stand your ground and use The Sandwich Technique to smooth out your NO’s.
Secondly, don’t get caught up providing the other person a long list of excuses of why you can’t do something. Excuses will only make you come across as unauthentic. Just provide one clear reason why you can’t do something and leave it at that. Showing an understanding of the other person’s situation and being brief with your reasons as to why you cannot help or adhere to their request is all that’s required to get you across the line.
Finally, always show good intentions. In other words, always be kind, authentic, honest, respectful and sincere. Only in this way will you maintain good relations with other people.
Examples: How to Verbally Say No!
Within this final section, let’s take a look at how to specifically say NO to people in a way that doesn’t leave a bad taste in their mouths.
For the purpose of this example I have divided up these methods of saying NO into four categories, including:
- Saying NO with reason.
- Saying NO without reason.
- Saying NO with options.
- Saying maybe.
No two social situations are equal. Variables will always include the person you are interacting with, their emotional state-of-mind, their request, the situation you find yourselves in, and your current predicament and responsibilities. Having all these variables in play means that you may need to adjust your response accordingly.
For instance, saying NO to a close friend will possibly require a different response than when saying NO to an acquaintance you just met. Likewise, the situation you both find yourselves in and the gravity of the request will also play a factor in influencing how you respond.
In the end, you want to say NO in a sincere way that doesn’t create any animosity between the two of you.
Saying NO Without Reason
Saying NO without reason means being very direct and brief. You would typically not give a reason when you don’t have a strong relationship with the other person, or when saying NO to relatively unimportant stuff, such as saying NO to a boy’s night out.
Here are some examples:
I wish I could, but I simply can’t…
Sounds tempting, but I’ll have to pass…
You go ahead. Let me know how it goes…
Unfortunately I can’t, but thanks for asking…
These are very straightforward answers and can be helpful when you’re strapped for time. Most importantly, they provide the other person with a sincere answer that informs them that you somewhat regret not saying YES, while alluding to the fact that you have more important priorities on your mind.
Saying NO With Reason
Saying NO and backing that up with a genuine reason is appropriate when the request people make is relatively important to them. Here are some examples:
Thanks for asking, but I’m focused on other things right now that need my time and attention…
I wish I could, but with all that I have going on at the moment, I don’t want to make a promise that I can’t keep…
You know I would say YES, but my partner just wouldn’t approve as we have this family thing to attend…
Unfortunately I’m unavailable at that time…
You know how I am with these sort of things. I just wouldn’t be reliable…
I’m sorry, but I actually just don’t feel comfortable in these kind of situation…
I actually prefer not to because…
These examples show that you care, but that you genuinely cannot say YES to the person’s request. You will also notice within these examples that at no time do you actually say the word NO. You instead substitute the word NO with a more genuine and caring response that doesn’t leave the other person feeling emotionally deflated.
Saying NO While Providing Options
When in a professional environment, while working in a team, or when dealing with very sensitive, and/or urgent requests, it’s important to say NO respectfully, but at the same time provide the other person with options moving forward. Here are some examples:
I’m sorry, but maybe someone else could help you out. How about…
I can’t actually do this right now, but what I can do is…
I typically struggle with these sort of things. Possibly you might find it of value to…
I’m not the best person to help you with this. Why don’t you ask Bob who excels at this sort of stuff?
Above all else it’s important not to leave the other person in limbo, especially if they genuinely need some help and assistance. That you are not able to assist them is fine, but be sure to help guide them in the right direction so that they can get the support they need to get the job done.
At times you might not want to say NO, but at the same time you don’t want to make a commitment that you can’t keep. Possibly you just need a little time to think about the request to consider your options and the opportunity cost involved. At other times you might not be in a position to make a decision in the moment, and need some time to consult with another person.
Here are some examples of how you can say MAYBE in a respectful way:
Okay great. But I will have to check with my spouse first…
Sounds good. However, let me check my calendar before I make a commitment…
This is interesting, but I need more information to make this decision…
Okay, I’ll have to take some time to think about it…
Now is not a good time, but possibly next week…
Thanks for the request. I’ll be sure to keep you posted…
Whenever you’re unsure of your ability to commit to something, or divided about how you should spend your time, then it’s always helpful to leave the door open to say either YES or NO in the future. Just keep in mind the level of urgency of the issue and respect the other person’s time. If you cannot commit, then be sure to let them know early enough so that they can make other plans moving forward.
Learning to say NO can be of tremendous value in both our personal and professional lives. Not only will it free your time to focus on things that matter most to you, but it will also provide you with the time and space you need to give more of yourself to other people — on your own terms. However, a life full of NO’s is often a life full of missed opportunities and unexplored possibilities. And for this very reason it’s important to understand the value of saying YES more often. But we’ll make that a discussion for another time.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 7 Tips for Saying No Effectively @ Inc.
- 9 Practices to Help You Say No @ Harvard Business Review
- Saying No (Kindly) and then Letting Go @ Psych Central
- Setting Boundaries and Saying No… Nicely @ 99u
- The Ultimate Guide to Saying No to People You Can’t Say No to @ Fast Company