Do you find it difficult to say ‘no’?
The “n” word. So short, so sweet and yet so difficult for some to say. Some of my career coaching and management coaching clients lead lives that are full to the brim with helping others. Yes, they are caring people. Yes, other people describe them as helpful. But, if they feel resentful, and can’t seem to clear enough space to fulfil their own needs, it’s time to sharpen their skills of saying ‘no’.
Step # 1. Don’t feel guilty. You have a right to say no. It might not be the best fit for the other person; however, you still have the right to say no. Tell yourself this for the next seven days, ahead of receiving your next request.
Step # 2. Practice saying the word ahead of the next request. My experience shows that some people can’t even articulate the word. So, that’s right, say it. Say it aloud. Say it with conviction and notice your accompanying body language. That way, when you need to use it, your lips will shape around ‘N’ for no, rather than default automatically to ‘Y’ for yes.
Step # 3. Pause. The next time you are asked to do something, notice your gut reaction. Is it telling you ‘yes’ or ‘no’? If ‘no’ then say so; say it early and clearly in a polite, relaxed way. A refusal does not have to be aggressive or hurtful.
Step # 4. Acknowledge your own feelings. If you find it difficult, then say so: “No, I don’t want to do that, I’m finding this really difficult to say, because I know how much it means to you, and I can see you’re disappointed.”
Step # 5. Need more time or information before deciding? If you don’t know what’s being requested, ask questions, or ask for time to think. It’s okay to say: “I don’t know; I need time to think about this”. If pressed, say something like, “If you need a decision right now, I’ll have to say no. If you can wait until tomorrow, I might be able to help.”
If your boss is asking you to do something and you are already flat out, ask what their priority is: “If I do this for you by close today, this means I’ll have to leave the proposal until tomorrow. Which do you prefer?”
Step # 6. Don’t apologise. Don’t be tempted to explain or justify. The person making the request will interpret whatever reasons you give as objections to be overcome. “You can’t give me a lift home tonight because you’re going to the supermarket? Great, I need to pick up some milk. Then you’re calling at your mother’s? Brilliant – I haven’t seen her in ages.”
Step # 7. Don’t hang around. If you hover around, it encourages the other person to try and persuade you to change your mind. Once you have refused the request, simply excuse yourself and leave. If they’ve come to your desk to make the request, ask: “Is there anything else? I’m on a deadline for this report/need to call a customer (or whatever fits for your role), so if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to my work”.
Practice helps; the more you say ‘no’, the easier it will get. If you’d like to learn more about management coaching, and for help with career issues like these, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.