The Hard No
One of the worst things you can do to your productivity and sense of well-being is the qualified Yes. That is where you really mean No, but don’t actually say the word. It is when your multi-level marketing addicted friend calls you to meet and you say maybe later versus telling them that this concept is just not for you. It is when a customer wants to take longer to pay and you say “I’ll think about it” instead of explaining why that will not work for you. Do you perpetually give people a qualified Yes instead of the No that is screaming in your head?
What’s so hard about saying No? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “No” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “No” in the wrong way may jeopardize that.
Saying No doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Saying No doesn’t mean that you are being rude, selfish, or unkind. These are all unhelpful beliefs that make it hard to say No. Thinking you are a bad person for saying No is a symptom of "the disease to please." Saying Yes when you need to say No causes bur nout. You do yourself and the person making the request a disservice by saying Yes all of the time.
Did you ever wonder why it was so easy to say No when you were a little kid and why it has become so difficult now? What happened?
Well, as children, we learned that saying No was impolite or inappropriate. If you said No to your mom, dad, teacher, uncle, grandparents, and so on, you were most certainly considered to be being rude, and you would have probably been in trouble for it. Saying No was off limits, and Yes was the polite and likable thing to say.
Now that we are all adults, we are more mature and capable of making our own choices, as well as knowing the difference between wrong and right. Therefore, No shouldn’t be an off limits word, but rather something that we decide on ourselves, based on our own discretion.
But sadly, we hold onto our childhood beliefs and we continue to associate No with being dislikeable, bad mannered, unkind, or selfish. We worry that if we say No, we will feel humiliated, guilty, or ashamed, and will end up being alone, rejected, or abandoned.
The first step to learning to say No is realizing that you, and your time, are valuable. It’s about choosing your own opinion about yourself over others.
I have learned that if you live your life depending on other people’s approval, you will never feel free and truly happy. If you depend on other people’s approval, what you are basically saying is “Their opinion of me is more important than my opinion about myself.”
The next step to learning to say No is deciding if saying Yes is really worth it.
After committing to something, doubt eventually sets in and you may begin to think of ways you can get out of it. And if you don’t have any good excuses, you then have to decide if you are going to tell the truth or come up with a lie.
Think about the anguish, stress, and resentment that saying Yes has caused you. Wouldn’t it be so much easier and straightforward to just say No in the first place?
I remember this one time that I said Yes to something and then later felt so bad about it that I ended up lying my way out of it. I still feel bad that I lied.
A co-worker called me one day and was asked if I could help them with a project they needed for work the following Saturday. As usual, I blurted out a polite “Yes, of course, that’s no problem at all.” I actually had plans with my husband, which I was really looking forward to but thought I could reschedule with him.
Later, I found myself feeling absolutely terrible that I didn’t honor my plans with my husband. I felt awful about having said Yes and I wished that I had just had the guts to say No from the beginning. Now I had to decide who to disappoint – my co-worker or my husband. I agonized for days when all I had to do was say No the first time. I called my co-worker back with the best excuse I could think of. I told her that I had completely forgotten that my husband had made plans for us that Saturday. It was only a half lie, but it was still completely unnecessary if I had just said No when I knew No was the right answer.
Looking back, I realize that it really isn’t worth it to say Yes when you don’t want to. I have a right to say No and shouldn’t be afraid of letting other people down at the cost of my own happiness.
When I suggest that people simplify their day by saying No to thing, I often hear people say, “But I’d rather say Yes!” Of course — saying Yes sounds so much more positive! I’ll say Yes to that wonderful project, raises for employees, and volunteering!
But where does the time, and the money, for these beautiful new things come from? We have to admit to ourselves that there’s a limit to how much we can do in a day, and that our days are already full. We have limits.
So we have to say No first. We have to clear up some space by saying No to things we’d like to do, but that are taking up space in our lives — space that could be used by something we really, really want to do.
Say No to all those things we said Yes to over time, that have accumulated and piled up like driftwood.
Saying Yes is easy. That’s the problem — we say Yes to something because it doesn’t sound like much. Sure, I can have lunch with you to discuss a new deal - one that I already know I am not interested in! But that lunch also involves getting there and going back, and it involves a few more emails to coordinate day and time, and of course there will be a proposal during lunch that leads to more lunches and maybe even a project (especially if we say Yes to the proposal during lunch). And so on.
Saying Yes is easy, because current self thinks that future self can handle it, no problem. But then future self becomes current self, and suddenly has to pay up for all the obligations placed upon him by all the optimistic past selves. We have a huge debt of obligation to all the people we’ve said Yes to in the past, one at a time, but now they’re all calling and asking us to fulfill those obligations.
Saying Yes is great, except when you never say No, and then everything is piled up.
Saying Yes to everything means you really have time for nothing. You can’t possibly say Yes to everything, because where will you fit it all? Want to go to every meeting, every event, every coffee? Want to do every project that comes along? Your days will be crazy, and you’ll have no rest, and what’s more, you’ll likely not meet all your obligations.
Saying Yes to everything means you’re not really saying Yes — it means you’re not setting priorities. You’re not making a serious commitment. You’re not being conscious about your life.
Instead, I propose we adopt Derek Sivers’ idea: don’t say Yes anymore. Either say Hell Yes, or No. Say Yes to less, and simplify your life.
So start by saying No to the obligations you’ve built up but don’t really want to do. Make a list of all your commitments (really do it, it only takes 5 minutes) and mark the 4-5 that are most important. Say No to the rest — actually call or email people and let them know you can’t do it. Not a wimpy “maybe later” but a real No.
It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.
But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.
But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship.
Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:
Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my husband and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
Practice saying No. Practice makes perfect. Saying “No” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying No. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying Yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
Say No to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say Yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “No” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. Ifyour boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “No” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other
situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.
Create room in your life. Some breathing space. Some time for what’s most important — your important work, the things that you love, the people you love.
Then start saying Hell Yes to those things. Then it’s like magic.
I would love to hear how you apply this in your life. Please send me an email about how you applied The Hard NO and what the results were at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next week Live Rich!
January 10, 2018
Join me every Wednesday on my podcast “Unlocking the Secret to Living Rich”.
If you have questions or comments you can contact me at my email email@example.com or find me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @cindybbrown777
Who is Cindy B. Brown? Cindy is a CPA, MBA, CFO, board member of public and private companies, business consultant, entrepreneur coach and a foremost expert in the field of business mastery. Cindy’s purpose is to motivate, educate and inspire people to live their richest life. She is the host of “Unlocking the Secret to Living Rich”.