Wish you could say “No” more effectively? Without hurting the other person’s feelings? You can. It takes a bit of practice, but practice is worth the freedom you gain–from doing things you don’t have the time or energy for.
What to do? When you say “No” you will be met with cajoling, from ones that generate a big load of guilt to ones that tell you how long the favor will take–and it’s always “Five minutes, max.” Of course, the only worthwhile thing that can be accomplished in five minutes is brushing your teeth.
So here are several technique that work. It’s not easy, but it’s easier than saying “yes” and exhausting yourself or heaping stress on yourself. Because that’s what we are doing–when we say “yes” when we should say “no” we are the generator of our own stress.
1. Listen to the entire request. Cutting the speaker off before they are done only makes them more demanding and insistent.
2. Re-phrase what they want you to do. This is important so you can understand what is being asked of you. Frequently, people asking favors use diminishing language (words like only, just, little, quick, easy) and you hear that instead of the task.
3. Agree, but set a time that works for you. If you WANT do what is asked of you, and you CAN do it, agree but give yourself plenty of time. This includes setting a time you will spend on the task. For example: “So you want me to take you shopping for a used car? I can come with you from 2 to 4 on Saturday. How does that sound?” or “You want me to proofread your marketing letter? Sure, I’ll be able to get to it on Monday, the 18th, and complete it on the 21st. Does that sound OK?”
Notice that in each case you are asking if the time is agreeable. If not, you have a great excuse to turn it down. If the person wants more of your time or a faster deadline, you can decline, having offered what is possible.
4. Do the favor, but for a limited time, set the time at the outset. “Sure, I’ll go with you, but I have to be back at my house at noon.” Or , “I’d love to help, and I can go from noon to 2 p.m.–will that work?”
Like the first Polite No, it offers your help, within your limits. If the person doesn’t like your limits, you can gracefully back out.
5. If you don’t want to or can’t, suggest someone else. “I can’t go on Saturday, but you might want to ask Joe, he knows a lot about cars.” Suggesting some other solution helps the other person walk away and makes you helpful.
There are times when you will have to choose between two “No’s” or say “No” more often than your guilt-meter wants you to, but remember that even in an airline emergency, when the yellow oxygen masks drop in front of you, you are supposed to help yourself first, then those around you. That’s a good image to keep in mind–saying No let’s you take care of yourself so you can survive to help others.
–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps others help themselves. Occasionally she is better at that than doing it herself. But she keeps practicing.