The Art of Saying No

Tips for tastefully turning down invitations and requests

By Ann Reeves
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To manage our time well, we need to learn the art of saying no gracefully. The holidays — when invitations, requests and family obligations family dinner christmasare at their peak — are an ideal time to practice. Would you try to play tennis without a racquet? Translate a book without learning the original language? Cook a meal without a stove? Pretty ridiculous, right? Yet if you’re trying to manage your time effectively without having mastered the art of saying no, you’re attempting something just as silly.

Why It’s Hard
Saying no is tough in our society. Not many of us like dishing out rejection. We tend to feel guilty about turning people down. Also, we enjoy the feeling of being wanted and needed that invitations and requests bring. Another reason: We want to avoid potential confrontations. We’re uncomfortable with the contest of wills we imagine may result. Then, too, most of us weren’t taught to value saying no, nor taught how to say no in ways that leave the feelings of all concerned intact. In some cases, we were even taught that saying no was selfish and uncooperative.

Last but not least, if we say yes to others often enough, we’ll hardly ever have time to say yes to our own most cherished goals and dreams. Then we won’t have to face the fear of failing to achieve them.

Not “Better”
I’m not saying that a life of realizing big goals necessarily is a better life than one spent realizing smaller goals, or one with no goals. In our success-worshiping society, it’s far more difficult to feel fulfilled without goals and achievements, and I respect people who do so. If giving others most of your time truly fulfills you, go for it and read no further. This article is for those of you who find yourselves saying yes more often than you’d like, and who feel frustrated because you want more time for longer-range goals or just for rest and relaxation.

Five Good Reasons
To help motivate you, here are six excellent reasons for saying no. You and others won’t reap these benefits, however, unless you can say no gracefully. Later I’ll suggest some tactful turn-downs that you can customize, rehearse and put into practice until saying no feels as comfortable as saying yes.

1. You’ll be a good role model for those you turn down, and for your children if you have them. Since saying no is so hard for most adults, you can help make it easier for us all by modeling how to do it. When you turn someone down, you also send signals that it’s acceptable for them to refuse you periodically, and that your mutual affection and approval aren’t based on saying yes all the time. And if you have children, think how far ahead of the game they’ll be with a good role model in this area, instead of having to teach themselves the art of saying no as adults.

2. You’ll respect yourself more, and so will others — including, usually, the people you turn down. I’ve proved this to myself countless times. I suspect the reason is that so many people know they’ve said yes too often themselves. If you say, for example, “When I take something on, I like to give it my all, but I’ve found I can’t do that if I spread myself too thin — and I really feel fully committed right now,” it’s a rare person who won’t admire such integrity toward previous commitments. Frequently, people will come back with a comment like, “I know just what you mean, I’m like that, too,” and will immediately back off on their request.

3. You’ll encourage people to come up with their own creative solutions. Think of it this way: When you say yes to a request for active help or advice, you may be “stealing” an opportunity the asker needs to learn to be resourceful and independent. You’re indulging them in taking the easy and least growthful way out.

4. You’ll have more control over your time — and therefore over your life. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed, as if your life has spun out of control, saying no more often is one of the best ways to correct that. Until you’ve trained yourself away from the habit of saying yes too often, other people will have more control over your time than you will. That leads to your feeling powerless or at least less powerful.

5. You’ll be able to enjoy other activities more wholeheartedly. One of the best reasons of all! Without the downward drag on your spirits that comes from feeling tired, stressed out, guilty about neglecting other important priorities, and inwardly resentful of the inviter or requestor, you’ll feel lighter, more joyful, and more fully attentive to the activities and projects to which you do say yes.


Eight Respectful Refusals

A graceful no conveys respect for the other person and yourself. One piece of advice: Keep it short. Most of us use far too many words when we say no. Conciseness is the voice of confidence. If you sound confident, people usually will accept that your mind is made up, and won’t try to argue you out of your decision. By the way, you’re unlikely to sound confident if you’re being untruthful, so it’s important to choose a refusal that fits the situation. That’s not hard, as you’ll see from the examples.

If you really have a tough time saying no, I recommend practicing these turn-downs (or, better, your own variations) into a tape recorder until you’re happy with the level of naturalness you project.
The Wish: “I’d really LOVE to say ‘yes’ — but I just can’t, I’m way overbooked.” Or, “You know I’d never say no to you if I could help it, I just have too much on my plate right now.”

Often we would love to say yes, especially for people we care about. Why not say so immediately, with great enthusiasm, just before you decline? The sincerity of your desire to say yes will likely feel better to the asker than an actual yes that conveys your ambivalence.

The Alternate Solution: "Our unit is over committed, but our teams have discussed some contingencies that might help. Perhaps you could use the money to hire a registry nurse." 

With this strategy, you think of an alternate way to help the requester accomplish their goal.  They take away an impression of you as cooperative even though you say no.  A variation on this is:

The Stand-In: “I can’t attend that meeting (or take on that volunteer duty, run for that office, etc.), but I can suggest someone who can.” Be sure that people you suggest would welcome the opportunity or at least know how to say no themselves.

The Delay:  “I can’t take on that patient right now, but I’ll check the other teams to see if we can rotate or change an assignment that will help."

Very handy — especially at work, for requests that come from people other than your boss. Remember to write the check-back date in your self-manager book or calendar and follow through.

The Mate: “My wife/husband/mate will walk out if I say yes to one more thing!”

Say this with a smile, but not unless it’s appropriate — which, in my experience, it usually is.  Who among us hasn’t neglected important commitments to our mate (to spend more quality time with each other or the kids, to plan a terrific trip, to re-do that extra room at last) because we say yes too often to others?

The List: "I’d be happy to do that for you, though I have a lot on my plate right now. Perhaps I can delegate one of these tasks to another team member in order to take on this assignment myself?"

This is a great way to respond to a manager who assigns you something when you’re already feeling crushed under a staggering workload. What you want to say is, “Can’t you see I’m going nuts around here as it is? Don’t you realize how many interruptions I have to deal with all day, and how hard it is for me to get done the gazillion things you’ve assigned me already?”

Instead, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that your manager, being busy too, probably has no idea how much work you already have, or how long those things will take to complete.  Then smile and give the response like the one above.

When your boss reviews your work in progress, you may find several items crossed off permanently or transferred to someone else, even if you keep the new assignment.  You’ll also wind up with a prioritized list, so you won’t have that overwhelmed feeling of needing to work on everything at once.

The Compliment: “You’re such a good organizer, I know you won’t have any problem recruiting other volunteers.” Or, “Your parties are the best — it’s just my luck I can’t go.”

If you use only compliments that are true, the person will probably feel as good (or almost) as if you’d said yes.

The Quickie: “I’m sorry, I have a prior commitment.” (Or,  “I can’t make it, but let me know how it goes.” Or,  “Sorry, I just can’t fit it in.”)

Over and out. Remember, conciseness is the voice of confidence.  You don’t have to explain that the prior commitment may be a private one. After all, those are some of the most important — though most often neglected — commitments we make.

Now that you have some good methods for saying no, you can start practicing right away. Who knows? You just may enjoy the holidays more than ever.  

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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