The Art of Saying “No”
Somewhere between your toddler years and the year when you accidentally agreed to serve as PTA Events Planner, you forgot how to say “no”. And it’s a shame. Because when you never say “no”, you lose the freedom to say “yes” to the things that really matter. It’s time to rediscover the art of saying “no”.
Some people love serving as PTA Events Planner. They agree to do it on purpose. But if you’re like me, you’ve had moments when you agreed to do something you should have declined.
Have you ever been asked to do something you didn’t want to do? Something that would weigh you down? Something you didn’t have time or energy for? And you said “yes” anyway? And you were screaming, “NOOOOO,” and, “WHYYYYY??!!” on the inside, but you thought it was too late to back out.
Or have you ever wanted to say “yes” to something so badly but been unable to because you’d filled up your schedule with unimportant things? Is your life like an overflowing handbag, spilling out all over the place?
I’m here to help. Here are a few ideas to help you say “no” with grace:
1. Don’t Make Excuses
When someone asks me to do something and I’m not able to comply, I want to give them an excuse. “I wish I could, but I have Wanda’s dance class that night.” This causes problems for a couple of reasons.
First of all, it reinforces to you that you need a solid excuse to say “no” to something. You don’t. If you don’t want to go for coffee with your neighbor because you’re feeling tired and anti-social, tell her you’re sorry but you won’t be able to make it. If you always feel the need to give a solid excuse for saying “no”, you’re more likely to feel like you need to say “yes” to something you’d rather not do.
Secondly, more than once I’ve given an excuse, only to have the person invalidate my excuse or offer to remove it for me. “Oh, I can take Wanda to dance class so you’ll be able to organize the entire fundraiser. No problem.”
So, I choose to say, “I’m sorry. I’m not available to help with the fundraiser,” or “I can’t make that work this year.”
2. Offer Help That Works for You
When someone makes a request, think about the need behind the request and think of ways you are comfortable filling part or all of that need. For example, if a friend asks you to go downtown for lunch at a fancy restaurant, you may not have the time or money to join her. It’s possible that all she really needs is some adult time with a friend. You could say, “I can’t make it. How about you come over this afternoon for a chat and I’ll make you some peanut butter and jelly?”
I once had a friend who didn’t own a car. She would call me several times a week asking for a ride with little or no notice. “I need some makeup. Can you drive me to the mall?” or “I’m craving chips. Let’s go to the grocery store.” Most times it would have been *possible* for me to drop everything and take her, but it would have wreaked havoc with my schedule, productivity, and family time.
So, I would tell her, “Next Wednesday I have time in the afternoon. Why don’t you make a list of errands and we can drive all over getting them done then?” I was able to help her out without resenting it because I helped her in a way that worked for me.
3. Gauge Your Cancel-elation
It’s easy to say “yes” to something in the moment. It makes the other person happy. It makes you feel good. But when you actually have to follow through, things aren’t always so rosy. The next time someone makes a request for your time, imagine how you’ll feel when it’s time to complete the task. Then try to estimate how elated you would feel if, right as you were about to begin work, or show up to help, the event was canceled. If your level of cancel-elation is high, say “no” now. I first heard this concept in a seminar with Dan Ariely and I love it.
It doesn’t mean I don’t still say “yes” to hard things. There are things I’m scared to do, or that will be difficult, but I say “yes” to them anyway if I wouldn’t be elated if they were canceled. For example, I may not enjoy attending the school pumpkin carving event with my kids. However, they love it and I love them, so I wouldn’t be happy if it were canceled, even though it means spending a few hours with a room full of rowdy middle schoolers.
4. Make a Plan and Set Limits
Be thoughtful about how much time you can give to volunteering outside the home, running kids to sports, or hanging out with friends. Make a plan about how you want to use your time that lines up with your highest priorities. You can be a bit flexible because emergencies arise and compassion sometimes dictates a change in plans, but stick to your plan as much as possible.
If your kids are already scheduled to your limit, think long and hard before enrolling your daughter in karate class unless she’s willing to drop something else. Teach her to make choices and set priorities.
Does all of this “no” talk mean you need to be selfish or give up serving others? Of course not. By thoughtfully choosing what you will say “yes” to, you simplify your life and make your service more meaningful. You’ll bring joy to others by serving them with love and feel joyful yourself, rather than bogged down.
Needing a little more inspiration to get organized and take control of your time? Check out these ideas: