How to Say No Gracefully.
“I can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone” – Ed Sheeran.
The safety demonstration on any airline, on any flight route, will explicitly instruct you to do one thing – to put your own mask on before you help others. I believe this same philosophy applies to anything in life. If we don’t put ourselves first and manage our own physical and mental wellbeing, how are we going to give our best to anyone else?
There are a few disciplines and practices I’ve put in place to look after myself. A big part of this has been learning how to say no. I used to be a people pleaser, until I reached a point in life where I realised I was doing a complete disservice to myself. I would say yes to everything and to be quite honest, it became exhausting. As much as I gain joy from helping and pleasing those around me, I had to look after myself first. I learned that no one else was going to do that for me.
Struggling to say no is something I’ve learnt I’m not alone in. Through conversation with family, friends and colleagues, I’ve learnt that we’ve all gotten into the same situation over and over again – saying yes and committing to things, only to regret it later. We get so angry at ourselves for continually falling into this trap. In fact, a friend recently disclosed to me she was so angry at herself for spending 3 hours with person ‘X’, which is 3 hours of her life she’ll never get back.
So, how can one learn to say no gracefully?
One way to learn to say no to things is to adopt a rating scale system. Thanks to Tim Ferriss’ practical tools and tactics, I learned one way to decline an invitation is to determine your excitement level towards it. For example, if you are invited to a dinner or a networking event and your immediate response is ‘maybe,’ then it should warrant a ‘no’ response. In fact, Ferriss denotes that anything does not result in an immediate ‘hell yes,’ from you, should be a ‘no’.
Another methodology for adopting a rating scale is to rate it on a scale of 1-10. 1 being you absolutely dread doing something, and 10 meaning you are bursting from excitement. Any invitation or request that falls below an 8/10, should warrant a ‘no’ response.
As an HR Manager I’ve written many professional policies for organisations, and so I had the same thought – why not apply this same principle and set a personal policy for myself? Between balancing my full-time job, blog, start-up, weekly food prep and household tasks I’m left with very little time for myself and to spend with family and friends.
My policy states that social events and commitments are restricted to Saturday nights and Sundays. If I’m invited to a mid-week dinner? The answer is an immediate no. Lunch on Saturday? The answer is a no. The exception to this policy is when meaningful events such as weddings, Christenings and significant birthdays fall outside of these times, and I’ve learned to become flexible with this. The truth is, if I don’t block out weeknights and Saturdays, my work suffers and I fall behind. This is the best way I’ve been able to manage competing priorities and a very high workload.
I’ve communicated this policy with my immediate circle and thankfully, I’m blessed with like-minded friends and family who appreciate the personal sacrifices I’m making to work on my projects. Unfortunately, I do not have space in my life for people who don’t respect my ambitions and goals.
Honesty is always the best policy. You can make up excuses for as long as you like, but eventually those excuses will no longer hold any water. You’ll end up having to say yes to something, simply because you’ve run out of excuses.
Try communicating your policy to other people, and explaining just how much you have on your plate right now. On my very limited time on Saturday night / Sunday, I need to make time for my family and friends, and still need to fit in some time to self-care. An example of an honest response could look like something along these lines:
“Thank you so much for your invitation. This sounds like a wonderful event / opportunity and I am so honoured to have been considered. Unfortunately, due to my current workload, I have set a personal policy where I am simply not accepting any new invitations at this point in time. Should my calendar clear up in the coming months, I will be sure to let you know. Thank you again, and wishing you every success with X event.”
You would be surprised at how well people respond to ‘no’ when you communicate it in this way. It’s not personal, it’s policy.
Is saying no something that you struggle with? What are some of the tools or tactics you have used to say no to people? Let me know in the comments below!