How to Say No Without Feeling Like a Dud

Photo courtesy of Melissa Maples

It’s become a popular trend to come from “a place of yes” in many aspects of the hustle and bustle of modern life.  The pressure is on to do good deeds, raise well-rounded kids, have a respectable job, serve on a multitude of committees, attend the right social events, and look good while doing it all seamlessly.

I support the idea of generally coming from a place of yes; in fact, one of the quotes I live by is: “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference” (Winston Churchill). I work hard to make sure my children know that they can do anything they set their minds to. I applaud their attempts at new things and their willingness to step out of their comfort zones whenever possible. And of course, I lead them by example.

With all of that being said, without the right boundaries in place, this can easily lead to a life crammed too full of all the wrong things. By saying “yes” too often to others, your life may suddenly seem emptier than ever before.

The solution sounds easy enough, but suddenly saying ”no” can be quite difficult. Your desire to keep the peace, fear of appearing rude, and a strong desire to be helpful are some of the reasons that may be causing you to overfill your plate, time and time again.

Surprisingly, many people report that others begin to show a newfound respect for them once they start declining, and that their own self awareness improves exponentially. The key is finding the right way to say “no.”

  • Get clear on your “Yes.”  Decide what is most important in your own life, and get your priorities in order. By putting your needs first (and the needs of your family), you’ll then have a better idea of how much you can agree to take on without cutting in to your own time, creating a sweet balance.
  • Think before agreeing. Some people feel pressured into taking on more than they can handle when put on the spot.  To avoid this, practice buying time. Tell the person that you’d like to think about it/check your calendar/ask so-and-so before committing. By putting a little time between the request and your response, you’ll have an easier time coming up with a reason for saying “no.” Anyone who is respectful of your time will be ok with waiting for a response.
  • Offer an alternative. Sometimes you may get requests for your help when you’re really not the best person for the task. If this happens, explain that while you may not be able to offer much help, you can steer them in the right direction to get the help they need.
  • Share your reasons. If you simply can’t help because you’re too busy, it’s ok to say that. Explain that you’d love to help, but that you’ve got x, y, and z going on at the moment, and that you don’t like to commit to something if you can’t devote the appropriate amount of time and effort required to do it well.

It’s easy to fall into a pattern of bowing to others’ needs before your own, but it’s also really important to get out of that habit as soon as possible. Helping other people is admirable and can be an extremely rewarding part of life, as long as you leave more than enough time in your schedule to be able to stop and smell the roses on a regular basis.

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