The fine art of saying No!

No.  Two little letters, one syllable and yet, when it comes to conversation, more difficult to say than antidisestablishmentarialism.  Why is it so difficult to say, and, Why is it so important that you learn how to say it?

It’s difficult to say No! because we all crave acceptance.  Regardless of whether you choose to admit it, being accepted into a group is a desire we’ve got from our ancestors.  Going hunting large fanged beasties with pink skin and opposable thumbs would not have been possible without a co-ordinated group.  Those accepted into a group came home alive and with full bellies.  Those shunned, ended up gored, trampled or eaten. So fitting in was a good thing.

This has led to a desire to please and conform in order to remain within the safe confines of the group.  Which, results in not wanting to disappoint or alienate people.  Saying Yes! to everthing is an easy way to prevent this, even if we have no intention of ever fulfilling the affirmation.  Excuses later feel better than a No! now.

There’s another reason we avoid saying No!. In declaring No! to something, you shut it off.  You stop all possibilities that may have arisen further down that path.  In short, you limit your options.

Why then, is it important to say No!?

Any productivity coach will tell you that you have to learn to say no.  Pick up any book on time management, or boosting productivity and there will be a chapter on why you should be saying No!.  They tell you to practice saying No! To only do things that are the best possible use of your time, not someone elses best possible use of your time.

They tell you that in order to get where you want to go, you have to work on what will get you there.  You have to defend that work by saying No! to everything else.  This is all well and good, in a vacuum, but, when you’ve got a colleague standing at your desk asking for help to make his deadline, when you know you’ve got nothing urgent to do, saying No! just feels wrong.

This is why learning when to say No! is just as important as learning how to say No!  How do you go about learning what you should be turning down?

To say No! one must first say Yes!

Now that almost sounds zen.  It’s not.  You learn from experience.  One of my favourite quotations is about learning.

“There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” Will Rogers

To figure out which “opportunities” you shouldn’t act on, you have to try and act on everything.  Saying Yes! gives you a chance to see how you feel, not when you say it, but later, when you’ve had a chance to think about what you’ve just agreed to, or, after you’ve completed it.  Looking back and evaluating the actions you’ve taken allows you to make better, more comfortable decisions in future.  if you don’t look back, you’ll always wonder whether saying No! was the right thing to do.

Look at the “To say No! one must first say Yes!” worksheet (you can get it by clicking here) and follow the instructions to figure out which opportunities you should be declining and which ones you should be jumping at.

How do you say No!?

The biggest problem with turning down requests is that a lot of people feel that this is a rejection.  If saying No! to something is not handled with tact and diplomacy (not speaking softly while having a big stick, real diplomacy), you run the risk of alienating people who you would rather keep as friends and allies.  Yelling “No! Stop wasting my time with this crap!” is a sure fire way to ensure that any of your requests are turned down in future. (As would be getting a red rubber stamp with the phrase “Fuck off” on it).

There are two ways to politely decline.  The first is when you know straight off that the request is wrong for you.  The first step is to acknowledge that the request has merit, something along the lines of “That sounds like a really interesting proposal, however” (I like “however”, it means the same as but, yet doesn’t sound as harsh).  Then follow with a polite refusal and a reason, and if possible, suggest an alternate person. For example “I don’t have the programming/graphic design/insert-skill-here skill that you need for that. Fred Bloggs, may be able to help”  The other one that works really well is “I just don’t have the time right now to give X project the attention it deserves.” These should allow you to refuse the projects, with a minimum of hurt feelings. (Unless they’ve also read this, in which case just tell them you have other Dragons to fight, and they’ll understand)

The second refusal is more of a stalling tactic.  If you;re not sure whether saying Yes! is right for you, you’ll want to use this option.  You don’t really commit or refuse to help, but instead buy yourself some time to way up the offer properly with respect to all your other goals.  You ask for some time to “look at your schedule and see if you have the time to dedicate to the project”.  Give a firm time for when you will give an answer, and stick to that.  At that point you should have a better idea of whether to say No! or not.  If No! is the way to go, then use the methods mentioned above.

What have you said No! to recently? (tell me in the comments) (I’ll also accept things you’ve said Yes! to, I’m not all that fussy)

One Response to The fine art of saying No!
  1. lhakpa tsering
    October 5, 2015 | 8:29 am

    i didn’t say no exactly but I dont say anything back

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