One of the biggest challenges we face in our business and personal lives can be mastering the art of saying “no”. This is particularly hard for women, who often struggle, (like I do) with a desire to feel liked and needed. If you’re stressed and stretched too thin – it might be time to say “no” to a few things.
It can be tough, but ultimately it’s the best thing for you, your family, and even the person to whom you’re saying “no”. When you agree to do something you either shouldn’t or don’t want to do, you’re not going to give it your best – and everyone in the situation is worse off. Here are a few real-life scenarios my friends and I have been through
1. Someone wants you to do something for which you would normally charge – for free.
This is always a tricky one. You’re known as a great organizer/writer/social media maven/speaker/photographer/cook and someone calls and asks you to do your magic – for free. Usually, this request is accompanied by a pitch as to how GREAT the exposure will be for you to do this. Exposure doesn’t feed you or put gas in your car. You can’t be your best you if you’re starving.
Here’s the issue – what you do is seen as valuable until you start doing it for free. People value what they pay for. Unfortunately, you’re devaluing yourself and your skills to both you and to others if you just give it away. You’ll do a better job if you have the internal incentive of being paid, and the recipient will appreciate what you bring to the table more. Others won’t value you if you don’t value yourself first.
I’m not saying there aren’t very few exceptions for close friends, people who literally gave birth to you, non-profits you’re passionate about, or the kind of experience you would get printed on a banner to fly above your house – but besides that – you’re good and special – and if they really want you, they’ll figure out how to pay you.
Response: “I really appreciate the opportunity – I usually charge XXXXX for that. Let me know if that works for you.”
This response allows space for them to find the money to pay you. It expresses gratitude, without shutting the door. Maybe they’ll surprise you and come back with an offer.
2. From a girlfriend – “These people I hate asked me to be on their podcast – should I just do it?”
No. Obviously, no. When you lend your time and credibility to someone else’s project, you’re giving them a thing of value. Every event you attend, every interview you give, every time you volunteer, every guest post you write – you’re lending yourself, your name, and the bounty of experience you bring to the table to that other project. Collaboration should be a mutually beneficial exercise – if it’s not – say no.
Response: Thank you so much for thinking of me. Sadly, I am out of bandwidth at this time, I’ll let you know if that changes.
This allows you to recalibrate if the podcast takes off and the cost/benefit analysis of being in a tiny room with people you hate behind microphones changes. However, it still allows you to maintain control of the situation by saying you’ll be the one to reach out if circumstances are different in the future.
3. You’re at work and are asked to add another project when you’re already overloaded.
Ugh, this one is tough. You like being known as the person who gets things done. You’re strong, you’re competent, and you execute. It’s nice to be relied upon. The bad news is that your hair is basically 95% dry shampoo, your dog growled at you because he thought you were a stranger, and your blood caffeine content should have you hospitalized. Just remember that sometimes taking on fewer projects makes you more productive – it’s better for you, and for your place of work.
Response: Obviously, I really pride myself on putting forth my best effort in everything I do here. If I take on something additional right now, everything I’m working on will suffer. It’s important for me to be able to provide an exceptional work product.
You start by reminding yourself and your boss that you are competent and capable. Let your good work speak. You’re honest about your bandwidth – if you do more, everything will be done less well – and that’s not who you are. Things around you are done well. Close by reaffirming the point that you want to succeed and by saying “no” to this particular project you’re actually doing a better job. It’s better to be known as the person who creates the best outcomes in what you do than the person who does a lot of things in a half-assed way. Be the person they call when they need a closer. Coffee is for closers. Clearly, you need a lot of coffee.
4. You’re asked to expand the volunteer job to a place where you’re not comforatble.
You’re passionate about this organization because you’re already volunteering – but it’s starting to feel less like a volunteer job and more like a real job for which you are receiving no money. Not optimal. Once it moves into that territory it’s easy to start to become resentful and it’s all a downhill spiral from there. You know it’s time to rein it in, but you like the people, the organization, and feel like you’re making a real impact.
Response: XYZ group is doing such amazing work and I’m honored to be a part of furthering our mission. I deeply enjoy the things we’re doing right now, sadly I feel like adding anything else to my plate will make my work/family/friends/school life suffer. I wish I could do more and will let you know if the other things in my life change to allow me to take on new challenges here. This is such a fulfilling part of my life.
Start off positive and affirming – using inclusive language like “our mission” reminds them you’re invested. Heck, you’re all here for a shared vision. Be honest, they’re asking too much and it’s upsetting your life balance. The best volunteer is one who can come to a mission as a healthy, whole person. Don’t close the door to potentially picking up more later. You might find circumstances in your life change.
5. A friend keeps asking for your help, and it’s not feeling like there’s a lot of reciprocity in the relationship.
Woof. I hate this one. Everyone has that friend. The one who just can’t seem to pull it together. They always need something from you. Often times, these friends also have a strong aura of victimhood around them
First, ask yourself, is this a pattern, or is this someone with whom you have a healthy give-and-take who is just going through a rough patch? If it’s a pattern it might be time to reevaluate the friendship. Choosing good friends is one of the most important, yet
Help out if you can, but not to your own detriment. Follow the oxygen mask rule. The reason airlines make you put on your own oxygen mask when on an airplane before helping anyone else is
Response: It really means a lot to me that I’m a person you feel like you can contact when you need help. Sadly I am unable to do what you’re what you’re asking in this case, but I’m happy to listen.
It’s critical to remind the person that it’s meaningful to you that they can come to you to ask for help. Often, it’s very hard for someone to ask, so don’t diminish the request. Keep your boundaries though – you can’t help anyone if you have nothing left to give.
It’s important to note that in none of these responses did you ever need to lie, nor did you ever have to diminish yourself, or the asker. There are ways to communicate where you can value all parties involved. It just takes practice. Honesty and kindness are not mutually exclusive.
Learning how to say “no” in an artful way is a critical skill that will help you to be your best self. Once you’re operating in a better space – you can be better at all the aspects of life and be better for even the people you turn down. In most cases, if your gut is telling you to say “no” and you say “yes” anyway – you’re doing the person asking a disservice as well