How to Say No with Greater Confidence

You can never be productive if you take on too many responsibilities. You will end up spreading yourself too thin and will not get anything done, at least not well or on time. That’s often what separates highly productive people from those running behind – the ability to prioritize and respectfully say no.

Most people don’t feel comfortable turning down another person. Especially in a work environment where the fear of being judged for saying ‘no’ is heightened. But whenever someone approaches with a request, we ultimately have four options:

  1. Say yes, because we can and fully commit to the project.
  2. Say yes because we feel bad saying no and end up being miserable for saying yes.
  3. Say no and feel guilty of it.
  4. Say no, and feel confident in our decision.

Although very few of us can choose option number four without any hesitation, it’s about time we start doing it more often. Why is it so important to say no? The short answer is – for a better work-life balance.

Being a person who pitches in might help your career in some ways, but always taking on more responsibility puts you at risk of burnout before your career can take off. A recent Gallup study indicates that oversized workloads and time pressures are among the top culprits of workplace burnout.

Read on: The Art of Forgetting About Work When Not Working 

The benefits of saying NO

We agree with what Stephen Covey, author of the bestseller  7 Habits of Highly Effective People, had to say, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically – to say no to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger yes burning inside”.

Although it’s never easy, being able to say no and prioritize your tasks does come with many great benefits.  Just remember, turning down someone by saying no gives you:

  • Freedom to decide how to use your time most efficiently.
  • Time to focus on your highest priorities.
  • Power to be in control of your workload.
  • Confidence to say no more often. The first time is the hardest.

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The art of saying NO

Realizing the importance and benefits of saying no is only the beginning. Now comes the difficult task of finding a way to gracefully say no – without disappointing anyone (including yourself). Perhaps the following tips will come in handy next time you’re in a tricky situation.

1. Separate refusal from rejection

It’s difficult to say no because we don’t want to let down the person on the receiving end. But denying the request isn’t the same as denying the person. The sooner you learn to separate the decision from your relationship, the sooner you’ll be able to make a clear choice and only agree to the things you truly have time and energy for.

2. Ask more questions

If you’re not sure what the cost of saying yes is, put the question back on the person asking. Make sure you have all the details – especially around the goals and deadlines – and try to understand whether you have some buffer time just in case something unexpected comes up.

3. Take time to process the request

If it’s not a definite no, you should still take some time to consider before you commit to something new. Take a look at your schedule and see the things on your to-do list. Make sure that committing to another task will not interfere with the projects you’re already doing. In short, count the cost and determine your trade-off before committing.

“Once you learn to insert time between an invitation, demand, or request and your reply, your sense of control will immediately increase.” – Harriet B. Braiker, author of The Disease to Please

4. Don’t make people wait too long

Yes, it’s all about the right balance. Asking more questions and taking your time is very important. Equally important is letting the person know as soon as you’ve made a decision. And we get it, even when you know right away you don’t have the time, it isn’t easy to turn down a request. But making people wait for a long time will backfire even more. The sooner you let people know, the sooner they can come up with an alternative plan.

5. Be assertive and courteous

Often, being direct or even blunt is the right way to go. But if it makes you feel uncomfortable, there is a way to be polite without sounding too harsh. One way of doing this is to acknowledge the request and share that you cannot accept any new projects. However, make sure you’re offering explanations, not excuses. The latter can seem insincere.

6. Offer alternatives, not excuses

Although some articles suggest that little white lies are okay, we wouldn’t recommend this. Instead of trying to come up with an excuse, offer an alternative.

For example, if you’re too busy but are interested in taking on similar tasks in the future, make sure to let the other person know. Or, if you don’t have the time but know someone who would be perfect for this particular task, make the suggestion. Either way, you end up being honest (and therefore feeling less guilty), and you won’t be perceived as the person who always says no.

7. Choose respect over popularity

Turning down someone who wanted, or even expected, you to say yes can yield an adverse reaction. Nonetheless, taking on a project and failing to do your best would be even worse. Therefore, you may not be the most popular person, but knowing the value of your time and being able to deliver everything you’ve taken on will gain you respect in the long run.

8. Make your peace

Last but not least – once you’ve made up your decision, don’t dwell on it. Move on and focus on the tasks in hand. There will be new requests in the future, and letting this affect you from doing your best job will affect your work and life outside of work.

Although all of us need to establish boundaries and say no with confidence, there’s something businesses can do to help prevent those situations from happening too often. Having more transparency within the company and implementing time management software where everyone has access to their team’s calendar gives every person the chance to check for availability before making a request.

Ultimately, it’s the constant distractions and new requests that eat away the working hours until we don’t have enough time for our individual tasks. And time, as we all know, is the greatest equalizer in life. We all have exactly 24 hours in a day, and the way we use it can only be determined by us.

Once you take control of your time and have a clear understanding of your priorities, you’ll be in a place to say no with greater confidence. The bottom line is – don’t be afraid to say no. Because once you learn to say no, you’re one step closer to finding a healthy work-life balance.