Saying no is hard for most women and even harder for some cultural groups who put a lot of value on being liked.
For women and for Latinas in particular, who grew up valuing personal relationships and hearing how important it was to look beautiful, to smile, and be pleasing to others so that everyone would like them, saying no can equate to social suicide. So, why would you do it? I’m there with you. From turning down presentation opportunities to a night out with friends saying no doesn’t come easy for me either.
But you know what? I’ve learned a long time ago that “no” is the most powerful word in my vocabulary. It helps me stay true to my priorities and avoid the many distractions I can easily fall pray to every time I say “yes” to things that take my focus away. You want to have less stress? You want to integrate work and life? Learn to say no often!
The secret to saying no and feeling great about it is two-fold. On the one hand it helps to say no without saying the word “no.” On the other hand you must take the time to hear the request, evaluate how it fits within your priorities, and offer an alternative that works better for you. That means that if your conditions are met, you can say yes.
You will see in the “10 ways to say no without saying no” that I include here, that many of them begin with a “yes.” The “yes”, however, comes with conditions that make the other person re-think their request. The goal in all instances is to either get the other person to pull back their request on their own or to adjust their ask in order to meet your conditions.
Saying NO: Discover the 10 Effective Ways to Say NO
1Yes, and re-prioritize
“Yes! Now tell me which of these five priorities should I drop?”
If your boss asks you to do something and you know you’ll be unable to do that plus what you’re already doing, ask them how they prefer for you to manage the other priorities. That may help change their mind or, get you out of something else.
2Yes. With these conditions
“Yes, sure! But I can only do it next week.” Or with the help of an additional person, or after you finish something else you are doing. The idea is that you can do it only if certain conditions are met. It’s up to you to come up with conditions you know the other person won’t be able to meet. (If you know they have a deadline and you can do it after the deadline.)
3Yes. In exchange I’ll need this
“Yes, sure! I’d love to help your team finish the project. But if I stay tonight, I won’t be here tomorrow morning to help you run the event.” Or any other trade you deem fit. Again, the goal is that if you are going to do something you really don’t want or don’t have time to do, you won’t do something else that affects that person.
Here's a great article about work-life balance /integration.
4Yes. In exchange you have to do this for me
“Yes, sure! I’d love to help you with this. The only thing is that if I do X you’ll have to do Y for me.”
Here you are asking the other person to take on something you have to do and will now drop in order to help them with their project. For example: I’ll write the report for the committee and in exchange you’ll prepare the Power Point for the meeting on Tuesday. If they don’t agree with your exchange, you can easily say: “Then, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to turn you down, because I don’t have time to do both things.”
5Yes. Plus additional compensation
“Yes, sure! I’d love to take on John’s responsibilities. It will mean that I have to work weekends for two months to do my job and finish his project. So can we talk about how I’d be compensated for that additional time?”
The goal here is to make it clear that you are willing to step in but want to be compensated for the effort it will take. This strategy only works in certain situations, not when you are expected to cover a team member who’s temporarily absent. But keep it in mind for when the situation presents itself.
6Flattered. But will pass
“I’m flattered you thought of me for this. Unfortunately, I’m overcommitted right now, so I’ll have to pass.” A simple, short answer. You can leave it here or do what’s suggested in #7.
7Flattered. Will recommend someone
“I’m flattered but I have a previous commitment. However, I’d like to suggest someone who’d be great for this.” When you recommend someone who can do the job you are solving the other person’s problem. So instead of focusing on your “no” they move on. Not only will they forget faster that you said “no,” but they’ll also be grateful for your help.
Here are some additional ways to say no by Adam Grant
8Flattered. Couldn’t give it my best
“Thank you for thinking of me for this opportunity. Unfortunately, I’m so overcommitted that I wouldn’t be able to give my best to the project. So, I’ll have to pass this time.” Again you can end it there or you can suggest someone else who would do a great job.
9Flattered. I could train someone else
“Thank you for thinking of me! I would love to do it! Unfortunately right now, I have no time to take it on and do a good job. But I’d be happy to train someone else to do it.” You’re exhibiting good will, team spirit, and appreciation for the opportunity, so in the future they think of you again.
10Let me check my calendar
“I’d love to do it. Let me check my calendar to make sure I have the time.” This is a wonderful way to avoid feeling forced to give an immediate response. (Which more often than not would be a “yes.”) After you take the time to think thoroughly about what was asked of you, you can come back with a reason why you can’t take on one more responsibility, you’re committed for that day, etc.
Believe me, if you start practicing these 10 ways of saying no and you combine them with a smile and a positive body language, you’ll soon feel great about turning down things that swallow your valuable time but are not a priority for your career. You can practice them at home too. You’ll be surprised at how effective the strategy is!
And if you want direct coaching from me and from our team of internationally renowned experts, plus an amazing range of leadership development resources, join the Step Up Program. You. Amplified!
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