10 Ways To Embrace Saying No

Here’s why we are advocating an ESCAPE PLAN for those who already have TOO MUCH ON THEIR PLATE


This time of year, the pressure is on to commit to all sorts of things. A twice-weekly walk with a dieting neighbour, a monthly book club, a fundraising initiative, a workplace mentoring programme, a six-week internship for an uppity post-grad (you’ve met her, you know), a winey (whiney) Friday night download with a draining sort-of friend. (You get to bed at 3am and spend the whole weekend exhausted.) While everyone else is making a virtue out of saying YES to everything during the summer months, we are advocating a return to NO for the already over-committed. Here are a few resolutions that will help you deliver a guilt-free negative response – with a smile.

1. IF YOU ARE CONSTITUTIONALLY INCAPABLE of saying “I would rather gnaw off each of my fingers than take your frightening child home with me after school / attend a meandering meeting of your toothless committee / put in a good word for you with someone I don’t even know that well”, you need a new response. The new you will say, “I’m so sorry, I can’t do that.” That’s it. No defensive explanations to be parried pronto. No makey-uppy excuses whose script you’ll fumble. No more over-commitment, over-stretching, over-promising. No more favours to be returned, either, obviously. Possibly no more friends. But with all your reclaimed leisure time you can always drum up a few new ones.

2. SAYING NO TO YOUR BOSS doesn’t actually result in demotion, and might mean he or she suddenly realises how full your plate is. Saying no to your partner doesn’t mean your three-year-old will have to stump home alone from creche, and might mean he or she is magically able to wrap up that meeting well before 6pm. Saying no to drinks with a pal whose politics make you grind your teeth to rubble doesn’t mean they’ll end up drinking gin in the bath, weeping and friendless. Well, it might, but hey. Saying no – unless it’s the only word ever barked from your lips – won’t make you the Least Popular Girl in the School. The older we get the easier we should find it to refuse – gracefully, if possible – and as we do so, our lives fall gradually back under our own control, which is right where they should be.

3. A FIRM APPROACH: “I’m trying to adopt the Queen’s motto … ‘Never complain. Never explain.’ And it’s interesting when you politely decline in a definite way without feeling the need to explain or justify yourself, people seem to simply accept a no without any difficulty. If they feel there’s wriggle room, on the other hand, it’s game over!

4. THE HALF NO: “I’ve always been someone who finds it hard to say no, particularly when faced with a direct question on the phone. However I have recently found a method that helps. Just ensure that you use some form of negative phrase in your reply. ‘Can you babysit tomorrow night?’ ‘I don’t think that should be a problem but I’ll let you know.’ ‘Are you free to join us for a 1970s theme party on Saturday’ ‘I don’t think we’re doing anything else but I’ll get back to you.’ This leaves enough of a question mark to allow you to decide what you want to do in your own good time. Do it for any request. It takes a bit of practice, but it works, and you keep your friends into the bargain because you don’t appear to be saying no.”

5. THE THREE-QUARTERS NO: “I have a friend who is quite good at what might be termed the three-quarters no – a sort of half-baked compromise. ‘No, I’m afraid I can’t do that … but what I could do is x’ – the x being some small gesture of appeasement. Or a deferral, until later. ‘I’m afraid I can’t do that now – but I could certainly try to do it in a month or two … ’”

6. THE GALLIC SHRUG-OFF: “I have a French friend who is really good at saying no. In a sombre voice full of regret, she says quite slowly – almost hesitatingly: ‘Oh no, I’m not at all sure that I could do that’ (sometimes adding ‘At the moment/with the other commitments I have’). Then she continues: ‘But let me think about it’ – still sounding so doubtful that you just know it isn’t a runner.”

7. THE WORKPLACE NO: I’m rubbish at saying no. But I have one particular colleague who has turned no into an art form. I call it the ‘You First’ automated response:
Q: ‘Excuse me. I have a problem, and I need your help. Can you do X?’
A: ‘Of course, but don’t you think it would be much better for your own professional development if you did it? If I did it for you, it would rob you of an opportunity to achieve! Tell me, what is the particular challenge for you here?’”

8. A CONVENIENT TRUTH: “I’ve devised a line which means I never have to tell a porkie pie. When I’m not working, any spare moment / evening / day I have I want to spend with family and friends so I say: ‘I’m terribly sorry but I have a previous family engagement I can’t miss.’ It’s the truth.”

9. ALWAYS EXPRESS REGRET: “When you start going into all the reasons why you’re saying no, it can sound like an excuse. So I think it’s always best to just say ‘So sorry, I can’t make it.’ As long as you express regret, it’s not rude or ungrateful.”

10. TAKE BACK CONTROL: “I’d rather say yes to things I want to do, not take on extra work, please my in-laws, or my kids. Since I would like to do Pilates or start a new course this year, I’ll be saying, ‘Due to my many New Year’s resolutions, I can’t commit to that.’

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