Are you someone who does a lot for others? You likely get lots of requests both in and out of the office and it can be really hard to say “no.” You want to help. You don’t want to disappoint people in your life. Maybe you’re even a bit of a people pleaser and are focusing so much on others you can’t easily say that two-letter word … no.
Why no can be a gift
If you say yes to everything, you’ll end up either making mistakes, feeling incredibly stressed, hurting your health or damaging relationships. Your fear of disappointing people might be turning into a reality when you avoid saying no.
A good illustration of this showed up when I was recently talking with a financial advisor’s assistant (we’ll call her Janie). Janie was telling me that she’s been making more mistakes than usual. For example, she’ll start a project and mark it as complete before it’s actually finished. As I was working with Janie and the advisor she works with we were trying to figure out how and why this is happening. Then it became clear. Janie was doing too many tasks at the same time.
When she’d get a request from her advisor, which usually started “Hey, Janie can you please…” No matter what Janie was in the middle of she’d drop what she’s doing and handle what the advisor needed. Of course, sometimes matters require immediate attention. But often they can be addressed at a different time.
In addition to working full time Janie is going to school virtually with a full course load. And, she’s been taking on volunteer projects.
Here’s part of the plan we came up with for her:
- Work with her advisor to say “Could this wait for about 15 minutes until I finish the paperwork I’m working on?”
- Set up daily short meetings to review what needs to be done and status on projects to reduce interruptions during the day and to confirm priorities.
- Renegotiate some of her out of the office commitments explaining that she wants to do a great job for the non-profit but doesn’t have the capacity at this time.
- Practice saying no with easy, low risk things. Her advisor agreed to work with her to support this process.
It can be hard to know how to say no without offending someone, having them feel like you aren’t interested in helping, or that you aren’t capable.
Decide on the type of no that works best:
Not now – This type of no is valuable when you have too much on your plate and can’t get it all done well. When you respond to a request explain why you can’t do it now and when you can get it done.
Not as much – Sometimes you might be able to share the workload or cut down on the project. Your response might be “I have time to review 10 of the files but not all 50 of them because I’m also working on our client event. Is it okay if Bob takes some of this project on as well?”
Not needed – Does the project you’ve been asked to do actually need to be done or done by you? Clarify why the request is being made is important. You may have a better solution that will take less time. For example, years ago we had a small paper shredder in the office. It took a lot of time to shred our documents. I had an intern suggest we hire a company to pick up the shredding. It was an easy yes and I was grateful for the suggestion.
No, not ever – This is where you don’t want to do something now or in the future. An example might be serving on a committee for a non-profit that you have no interest in.
A few important points to remember:
Use clear language – When you use words like maybe, or I don’t think so you leave the door open for misinterpretation, or having the person come back and ask you again (making it even more difficult to decline or postpone their request).
Explain your reasons – In a work setting it is helpful to explain why you need to say “no”. Your reason will help others understand your situation. Having said that, you don’t always need to go into a long explanation for some requests. For example, if a co-worker wants to have lunch (and you don’t really want to) you could say “I’m really busy with my work and I’m trying to get it all done before the kids come home from school so I’m not taking long lunch breaks. Thank you for the invitation.” Or if you’re asked to be on a non-profit committee and are not interested “Thank you for asking me. I appreciate the invitation. I’m going to say no.”
Offer alternatives – You can suggest a different time frame, a different person handle it, or a change in priority. For example, “I’m happy to work on that website copy. Would you like me to do this before or after I finish the proposal for the Thompsons?”
Saying no can actually be a wonderful gift you give to others. Reframing this in your own mind from something difficult and bad to something generous and good will help your no’s come out easier and with more love and care.
Every good wish,
+ Interested in improving your relationship with money? Feeling like you might have some beliefs or blocks in business and your personal finances you’d like to clear? Learn more here.