How To Say No To Requests (Without Damaging Your Relationships): 8 Tips


how to say no

Are you struggling to say no to your partner, friends, and folks?
How to say no to requests without guilt, conflict, or regret or damaging your relationships?

“Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter” — Greg McKeown

Turning down a request or invitation can be extremely difficult. Ultimately, you are terrified you won’t be liked, and with every cell in your being screaming at you to say no, you just cannot muster those two tiny letters.

Despite having trained on this for a decade, I am equally guilty of giving away my ‘yes’ too quickly. I have sat through many talks, social gatherings and networking events, wondering what on earth compelled me to agree to it.

saying no without damaging relationships

At the time of the invitation, it seems like a good idea. However, once I was there, it filled me with remorse. I could rattle off at least five other things I could do that would serve me better. So knowing this, why did I still say yes?

If you can relate to this battle with saying no,

Here Are Some Tools You Can Use To Say No To Requests Without Conflict, Guilt Or Regret:

1. Manage Expectations.

“Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.” — Bob Carter

When someone asks you to do something, do you hear yourself saying, ‘No problem, I’ll get it done tomorrow’. This is despite the fact that you are barely coping with your current commitments. It’s human nature to please others, and there is a fear of damaging your reputation if you say no.

A Mathematical Formula For Happiness: Reality Divided By Expectations

Shift your default reaction of over-committing to it the next day and instead ask:

‘What is the latest deadline you need this? My calendar is swamped until Tuesday. Would Wednesday morning work for you?’.

You will find that they will probably agree to it unless there is a genuine urgent need for it sooner. But again, let that be the exception and not the norm. You don’t want to compromise quality for quantity in your eagerness to please others. You are remembered for your latest contribution, not something you did well a few weeks ago.

Related: How to Be More Charismatic: 3 Tips

2. What If It’s My Boss?

“One key to successful relationships is learning to say no without guilt so that you can say yes without resentment.” Bill Crawford

It’s all well to say no to your colleagues, but what happens when your boss or someone is more senior than you who makes the request?

You can respond by saying, ‘here are the key priorities I am working on right now. If I take this on, then something needs to give. Where would you prefer I focus — what is most important for you?’.

In this way, there is zero guilt. You have expressed your situation clearly, and now the ball is in their court on how you should proceed. You are being responsible to ensure top quality and delivery. After all, your reputation is on the line if you don’t deliver to a high standard.

Related: 9 Ways To Develop More Conscientious Interactions At Workplace

3. Apply The Yes Sandwich.

“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” Josh Billings

Often, it is not the fact that you said no, but perhaps the way you said it.

My co-author Nadia Bilchik and I published ‘Own Your Space: The Toolkit for the Working Woman’ in 2016, where we spoke about the ‘Yes Sandwich’. This approach allows you to turn down a request in a way that softens the blow and helps the other person not take your ‘no’ so personally.

It has three layers:

Layer 1:

Begin by positively acknowledging the other person’s intent.

Layer 2:

This is where you graciously say no.

Layer 3:

Offer an alternative (this is optional)

Let’s say you are invited to attend a webinar, online networking or social event after hours; you could say:

1. ‘Thank you so much for the invitation and for thinking of me.’

2. ‘Unfortunately, this is my family time, or I have made another commitment already’.

3. ‘Please think of me for the next one as I would love to support you.’

Another way to think about saying no is to separate the decision from the relationship.

Peter Bregman spoke about this concept in his book, Four Seconds. He often said we confuse the decision with the relationship to that person. We feel that denying the request is the same as denying the person, and it isn’t. First, decide objectively how you want to proceed and then find the compassion and courage to communicate your no.

In this way, the person doesn’t feel hurt or offended, and you have left space for them to approach you again without feeling attacked.

4. Protect Your Downtime.

“The oldest, shortest words — ‘yes’ and ‘no’ — are those which require the most thought.” Pythagoras

Saying no is not just about protecting your weekday calendar but setting boundaries on your recovery time too. When you are requested to attend a family lunch or an online game of trivia, ask yourself these questions before you reply:

· Am I saying no out of fear or guilt? If so, it is probably a no.

· Does this energise me or drain me?

· What am I giving up by saying yes?

· Does this excite me?

The ultimate question to ask yourself comes from author Derek Sivers:

“Is this a “HELL YEAH!” or a no?

When you decide what to do, anything that doesn’t wholly excite you should automatically default to a no.

Derek says:

“When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say “HELL YEAH!” We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out”.

Don’t fall into the trap of giving away a yes because your calendar is empty at the time of the request. How many times have you agreed to attend an event because you figured you have nothing on, so you may as well. But fast forward to the date in question, and you are cursing yourself you agreed to it.

Related: 30 Morning Affirmations To Boost Your Confidence Daily

5. Create A Mental Buffer.

“Sometimes no is the kindest word.” Vironika Tugaleva

If saying yes to requests rolls off your tongue a bit too easily at the moment, then have this default line ready:

Let me check my calendar, and I’ll get back to you.

It gives you some breathing room to pause and check your priorities and capacity. Once you have decided what will work for you, get back to them with the time frames that work within your diary.

Related: What Is Your Greatest Internal Struggle? QUIZ

6. Have A Burning Yes.

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically — to say no to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger yes burning inside.” Stephen Covey

The more clarity you have on your priorities, the easier it will be to say no. When you can recognise what matters most to you, it shines a light on what you need to ignore. Make time to write out your long term and short term goals across all areas of your life.

The purpose of knowing your goals is to be appropriate in the moment. It provides direction on how you should behave when faced with options on how to spend your time. Use it as your compass to ensure you are saying yes to the things that matter.

7. Manage Your Boundaries.

The ability to say no comes down to boundary control.

Boundary Control refers to the degree to which you feel in control as you manage the boundaries between your work life and personal life. Individuals with high boundary control can manage how they divide their time and attention between work and family. They decide when to focus on work, focus on family, or blend the two.

People with low boundary control are people-pleasers and avoid saying no to avoid conflict and guilt. They are also more stressed than people with higher boundary control. You need to maintain healthy boundaries. You cannot possibly say “yes” to every request and invitation that comes your way, and if you try to do that, you’ll only burn yourself out. If you haven’t already…

If you aren’t sure which side of the boundary spectrum you are on, here are some checkpoints:


Related: Personal Boundaries: 9 Core Boundaries To Live By

8. Final Thoughts.

Saying no is difficult, but like training your biceps, you need to strengthen your No muscle.

Remember, when you say yes to someone else, you are inadvertently saying no to what matters most to you. Ask yourself:

· What do I value?

· What matters to me?

· What am I committed to?

The results you have in your life now and what you are committed to. If you are in shape, you are committed to your health. If you make time to write every day, you are committed to your practice. You need to know what matters to you because when those decision moments come, you will own your no with confidence.

When you start second-guessing yourself and feel the need to justify your response, take comfort in Warren Buffet’s wise words:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything”.

Please share this article with anyone who you may think will find it valuable and helpful.

Written by: Lori Milner 
Originally appeared on: Beyond The Dress
Republished with permission
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