Yes. Absolutely. You got it. No problem.
Sound familiar? Chances are, words and phrases like that fly out of your mouth all the time at work—whether you truly mean them or not.
We’re all somewhat conditioned to be people pleasers. We’re taught to be team players, to put ourselves out there, and to accept new opportunities that come our way. And, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a big fan of saying “yes”—especially when it comes to taking on a new project that challenges you.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that turning things down every now and then is necessary in your professional life—which can be deceivingly hard to pull off when you’ve become so used to saying “yes” to everything.
This is something that today’s “Dear Kat” reader struggles with:
“Dear Kat, I’m a quintessential ‘yes person’. Even when I know better than to agree, I catch that little word and a nod flying out before I even realize it. Saying ‘no’ seems so harsh to me, which means I stay far away from ever turning anything down. But, now I know I’m stretching myself way too thin. Do you have any tips to help me get better at saying ‘no’?”
You’re not alone in this challenge—I’m sure nearly every person reading this can relate. In fact, even I struggle with rejecting people or opportunities on a frequent basis (and, hey, I dish this advice out for living!).
But, with all of that said, there are definitely a few things you can do to get better at turning things down. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Understand Your Priorities
Sometimes it’s not an issue of knowing how to say “no”—it’s an issue of knowing when to say it.
This is why it’s important that you start by getting a solid handle on your goals and your priorities. When you get a request to attend a meeting or take on additional work, for example, you’ll know if that falls in line with your priorities or would only ultimately distract from what you’re aiming to accomplish.
Sit down and create a list if you have to. Just do what you can to get a good grasp on what your top priorities are. As a result, knowing exactly when to give things a pass will be that much easier.
2. Use “Future You” as a Motivator
How many times have you agreed to something, only to regret it almost instantly? If you’re like most people, this probably happens on a frequent basis.
Here’s a trick to help you: When you’re considering saying “yes”, take a minute to think about “future you”.
Taking on that additional work might seem like a good idea in the heat of the moment. But, when you pause to picture “future you”—who’s stressed out, frazzled, and has far too many commitments—you might feel more inclined to give yourself a reality check, turn that opportunity down, and preserve your sanity.
I’ll admit that it can be tough to connect your present state with the future—science even says so. However, the more you can think about how your answer will not only impact you today, but tomorrow as well, will help you reject things when it’s really necessary.
3. Start Small
Alright, so the thought of saying “no” still makes you uncomfortable. Rather than telling yourself that you need to jump right in and start by passing on a major, earth-shattering, and life-changing request, dip your toes in by turning down something small.
Perhaps you finally tell your colleagues you can’t join them for lunch because you have too much on your plate. Or, maybe you tell your boss that the deadline she requested is a little too tight and you’d like to extend it by a few days.
Start small, and you’ll start to feel more and more accustomed to not saying “yes” to every little thing. Soon enough, you’ll have the confidence to turn down those bigger things!
4. Resist the Urge to Apologize
How many times have you prefaced a rejection with “I’m sorry”?
I’m sorry, but I can’t. I’m sorry, but I’m too busy. I’m sorry, but that’s not my area of expertise.
It’s a completely natural thing to do. And, sure, sometimes a casual “sorry” can help to cushion the blow a little bit. But, ultimately, you don’t have anything to be sorry for.
Saying “no” is perceived as such a negative thing. However, it’s really not. In fact, you could argue that it could actually be viewed as a positive.
“Saying ‘no’ is not the equivalent of flipping a giant middle finger. It's quite the opposite,” explains writer Scott Fetters in one of his posts, “It shows you have a vision, a plan, and an opinion. By clearly articulating your needs, challenges, or deadlines (in advance if possible) you begin to eliminate distractions. In turn, you stop feeling inclined to people please because you have defined a game-plan.”
Long story short, don’t feel like you need to start your rejection with an apology. It’s really not necessary.
When we’re all taught to be collaborative, helpful, and to occasionally “take one for the team”, knowing how to say “no” can be a challenge. However, it’s also a necessary skill—unless you want to end up stressed out and over-committed.
Put these four tips to work, and you’re sure to find it at least a little bit easier to turn things down!