How exactly can you say no to someone and not feel bad about it? In order to answer that question, you first need to understand why you feel bad about turning someone down. Saying no obviously has negative connotations to it – people don’t want to come across as rude, or aggressive, or feel like the bad person. We don’t want to become known as the person in our work or social lives that is seen as unhelpful or uncaring. As a result, people tend to take what they assume is the easy route out by just agreeing to do something they don’t want to do – but this in turn takes up your time, and as we all know, time is precious.
We spoke to leading lifestyle coach Carole Ann Rice, who agrees that saying no to things is key to your self-care, self-preservation and self-protection. “Your decisions don’t need to be justified to anybody – no means no. The reason why you’re saying no is none of their business. Don’t justify and don’t explain – just clearly, directly and politely say something simple like, “I am unable to do that/make that time, but thank you for asking me.”
At work, it can be hard to say no for fear of not looking like a team player, but there is a fine line between being a team player and being taken advantage of. Saying yes to too many things will not only convince people that they can ask you to do anything at any time, but it’ll also likely jeopardise you own workload, putting you behind.
Easier said than done, we know, but if you’re not comfortable with a flat-out no, Carole Ann says you can offer an alternative, but only if you’re actually able to do that. For example, if a co-worker asks you to contribute to a project they’re working on, ask yourself whether the project will be worthwhile or detrimental to your own time. If it’s likely to be a problem, Carole Ann says to be polite but explain that you have your own workload to manage. “Tell them, ‘I am unable to help you right now.’” She advises. “But offer a solution: ‘Try me again tomorrow and I will see how my workload is fixed.’ That way, it’s likely the problem will be solved but you have been polite in offering to help.”
The situation gets a little stickier when it comes to your boss. It’s always good to be keen to impress your boss, but you are a professional, and it should be the case that your time is respected as much as theirs. If you’re finding that too much pressure is being piled on or your work is starting to eat into your own personal time, it’s ok to say no – a good way to approach this is give them an alternative. Carole Ann suggests telling your boss: “Thank you for thinking of me and for the opportunity. I would love to do that but would need someone to stand in for my workload, or some time off in lieu.” This is a polite and succinct way to express your willingness to help, but also making it clear that you’re going out of your way to help them. “It’s likely they won’t want to give you the extra time off and will ask someone else,” says Carole Ann. “But at least you gave them the option.”
It might be easier to let your friends down when it comes to social engagements, but don’t make a habit of it – friendships and socialising are important. Having said that, don’t waste time and money doing things you don’t want to do. Carole Ann says to keep it light and breezy: “I’m so sorry but I can’t make it! Can we please reschedule to next week? Let’s get (another friend) to come as well?”
“It’s all about keeping things polite,” Carole Ann adds. “And if you really don’t like the original offer then use this opportunity to draw up an alternative, one which suits you – different event, different date and different venue, plus including other friends makes things more interesting.”
Carole Ann stresses that it’s not necessary to give an alternative in any scenario – only if you’re happy with it. If you know in your mind that you’re not going to turn up next time either, then just say no. Delaying the process will only make people angry and extend an already uncomfortable situation.
If you find that people become persistent in getting a yes from you, ensure you stick to your guns and remember that no means no. “At this point your boundaries are not being respected by the other party - don’t let them make you feel uncomfortable or pressured into doing something you don’t want to do,” says Carole Ann. The main thing is that you don’t overcompensate to make others happy. Are you happy doing it? If you’re not, simply don’t do it. In a time where self-care is paramount, that includes making yourself feel happy and appreciated. So practice saying no, and get back to doing the things you actually enjoy.
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