Yes, you can say no

October 20, 2014

Someone asks you to attend an event after work, speak on a panel, or become part of a book group.

You don't want to do it but you

a)    Feel you have to say yes because you want to be nice and being nice is incredibly important to you, plus you believe in the organization’s work. But then your heart sinks because you’ve added one more thing to your overwhelming list of tasks.

b)   Are determined to protect your time so you say no with lots of add-ons like, “So sorry, I’d love to do it but I’m totally swamped at work and my mother-in-law just had a hip replacement so my husband’s staying with her and I have to take care of three kids on my own, and walk the dog. Again, so sorry!”

I want to share these ‘how to say no’ tips I picked up on the online leadership course I’m doing with Gloria Feldt, because they’re too useful not to disseminate. They come from Victoria Pynchon and Lisa Gates of She Negotiates

They key to saying no is to say it firmly and to stop talking after that. Even when every fiber in your body is screaming that it’s not ‘nice’ to refuse and you simply have to churn out excuses to make up for it. No. Stop. Talking.

Vickie and Lisa offer simple lines like, “I’m really working at creating balance in my life right now. No thank you.” No further explanation needed.

There are alternatives depending on how much you care: “I’m sorry if you were counting on me. How can I make it up to you?”

So many women are afraid of feeling horrible - and being horrible - if they say no. I used to hate it, but I’m increasingly protective of my time and I say no quite a bit these days without a twinge of guilt. If you’re one of those people who still struggles with no, consider these responses.

7 ways to say no, from She Negotiates:

1)   No: “Yes, I’d love to take part, and I’m going to have to decline.”

2)   No with help: “I love that you thought of me, and I’m unable to participate. How can I help you find someone else?” (This technique is used by FT columnist Mrs. Moneypenny, who talked about this in episode 27 of The Broad Experience on dropping guilt from our lives.)

3)   No with appreciation: “I think your idea is fabulous, and I’m not able to participate at this time.”

4)   No and yes: “Yes, I’d love to participate, but at a later date. Can you ask me again in January?”

5)   No with specific yes: “I’d love to help you with your project, and I’m on a deadline until Tuesday. Can we meet on Wednesday?”

6)   No when you don’t know: “Sounds interesting. I need to sleep on that.” OR “I need to check with my boss/partner.”

7)   No with values: “If I take on another task right now I wouldn’t be honoring my commitment to my family/work/business.”

Note the use of the word ‘and’ in most of these sentences rather than ‘but’.  I suspect this is a subtle difference that frames the response in a more positive light, but - I mean and - I’m going to see if Vickie or Lisa can weigh in in the comments below.

I realize this is not exclusively a woman thing. My boyfriend hates saying no too, which is sometimes endearing, sometimes exasperating. Still, women are the ones who are are acculturated from birth to be sweet, pleasing and accommodating. Saying no clashes directly with that societal mandate.