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Gentle art of saying no

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

In a previous post I wrote that saying no is a simple way of increasing your confidence and staying productive. It also means that you don’t clutter your commitments. If you spread yourself thin, you won’t be able to get anything done; at least not well or on time.

I speak from experience especially when I was just starting out in my career. It is also something that is prevalent in my mentees that are also starting out in the world of work. They are so eager to please and show everyone that they can do it all, which naturally most people do when they are in a new environment.

Thing is, requests are and will always come in left right and centre – through emails, phone or in person. In order to stay productive, minimise stress and focus on what’s important, you need to learn to say no.

It may be difficult to say no, but a confident person knows how to manage their time and their commitments. Saying no is a sign of strength and self-awareness.

1. Value your time and know your priorities

They say time is money. In simple terms know your commitments and if someone is requesting something that won’t add value to you and/or you don’t have time for it. Tell them “My plate is overloaded, and I just cannot do that right now.”

Even if you have extra time, is that commitment really the way you want to spend that time?

2. Practice

You won’t just be able to say no overnight because of the million thoughts in your mind to help you reason with that decision. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” often is a good way to get comfortable with using the word. If someone keeps persisting, keep saying no and eventually they will get the message and you’ll get more comfortable using the word.

3. Get back to you later

If you are struggling with saying no straight away, you can tell the person “can I get back to you later.” This allows you to check your commitments and priorities. You could follow up and say “I’ve given this some thought and after checking my commitments I won’t be able to accommodate this at this time”

It’s a gentle way of saying no but at least you have given it some thought.

4. Stop being nice

YUPP. Stop being nice. Being nice means saying yes to everyone, and while it’s important to be polite it only hurts you. Making it easy for people to target you is dangerous because they will continuously come back to you. You must show them that your time is well-guarded by being firm and turning down requests you cannot accommodate.

5. Don’t apologise

Over apologising can undermine your worth, minimise your presence and contribution. We usually start sentences with “sorry but…”. While it’s good to be thoughtful you need to be unapologetic about guarding your time. I for one am definitely guilty of this but I’m working on it. Some strategies that have helped me improve are:

  • Instead of saying “sorry I can’t attend the meeting” say unfortunately I can’t attend the meeting”

  • Instead of “sorry for waiting” say thank you for waiting”

6. Say no to your boss!

We often feel that we have to say yes to our boss – because they are our boss, right? By saying no, it may show them that we are incapable and can’t handle the work. But in fact, it’s the opposite as I found in my career.

Instead of just out right saying no. Explain to them that you don’t have capacity to take on that task at the moment because of your workload. Taking on more work may weaken your productivity and jeopardise the quality of work. If they insist you prioritise that project. Simply make a list of your commitments and ask them to help you re-prioritise.

This definitely shows your manager you are self-aware, organised and that you respect your time.

Let me know in the comment section other ways you gently say no.

R x



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