How to Say “No” in All Aspects of Your Life
posted on July 3, 2019 | by Sophia Ronga
Your boss recommended that you lead a big project! After already recommending that you lead three others. Your best friend wants to spend a weekend in Vegas! Even though you just celebrated her birthday in Nashville. Your mom suggests you have a girls’ weekend! But you’re swamped at work and need to take care of things on Sunday.
Having to say no to things – whether you want to or not – is an unfortunate part of adulthood. Sometimes, you’re simply way overbooked and feel like responding with a simple “Uh, it’s a no from me dawg” but you don’t want to upset the person or give them the impression that you’re not in for future opportunities (Vegas? Girls weekends? Definitely things you could be down for in the future).
Read on for how to handle each situation like a real person capable of being responsible, rather than sounding like Randy Jackson rejecting a try hard on American Idol.
Saying “no” on the job
Recognize that you’re being asked because you bring value. Your coworker wouldn’t be asking you to help them with an assignment if they thought that you would do it poorly. Your boss wouldn’t offer you a new opportunity if he or she thought you weren’t able to handle the ones currently on your plate. An intern wouldn’t approach you with a question if they weren’t comfortable that you would be able to guide them in the right direction.
It’s a big pat on the back to be asked for help (even if it sometimes is the last thing that you want to do). Each time you’re asked to lend a hand, mentally give yourself a high five, but remember that you’re able to do well on the other projects you have because you have the proper time to execute them properly.
Ask for time to make a decision. You’re never going to be able to say yes to every opportunity (no matter how much you would like to), so at some point, you’re going to have to turn down an ask. Point blank: it can be harder to do that when you’re put on the spot.
If someone approaches you with an extra task, always ask for some more detail and some time to look it over. The formula should be: 1) thank the person for thinking of you (re: recognize you’re being asked because you bring value) 2) ask for time to consider the implications 3) set an appropriate timeline to get back to them with a response.
– If your boss approaches your desk, say something like “thank you for thinking about me. I have a few things on my plate right now, so can I have twenty minutes to evaluate where each of my projects are and consider when and if I can fit this in?”
– If someone suggests your name in a meeting you’re in, you can lean on, “I’m really excited to have been brought up as capable of handling this. Do you mind if I take a few moments after the meeting to consider how it might impact other things that I have going on? I can get back to you with an answer at the end of the day?”
Use the time to think clearly about whether you can say no (i.e., does your job depend on it?) and if you have the time to dedicate to it (without pulling out your hair in stress).
If you’re already overwhelmed at work and someone brings up an opportunity that you know you can’t fit in, skip this step and go straight to the next. Do not pass go.
Be clear about your priorities and whether you’re open for more opportunities. It’s hard to go back to someone who is depending on you and straight up tell them no. You don’t want them to think less of you and you (maybe) don’t want them to not consider you for something Project Z just because you said no to Project Y.
That said, everyone understands being overwhelmed and everyone can sympathize with having too much on their plate. Be open and honest.
The formula here is: list what is currently on your plate, make clear that this is already as much/ more than you can handle, and let the person know if/ when you’d be open to new opportunities in the future (optional: thank them again for the consideration, because gratitude goes a long way. A.K.A. this part of the formula really isn’t optional). Example:
– If it’s something you’d consider in the future, say “I currently have a lot going on because I’m coordinating Event A and managing Team B’s execution of X. I’m packed each day and really don’t think I have the time that this project deserves. That said, I really appreciate your thinking of me for this opportunity, and Event A is in two weeks. After that, my plate will be clear, and I’d love to be considered for things of this nature.”
– If it’s something you’re not interested in say “It sounds like a great project and it’s awesome that you thought of me. Unfortunately, I have my hands full of A, B and C and I’m just not as passionate about this issue as I am about those three tasks. I think it would be more beneficial if we could think of someone fit for this who is more interested in working on this topic and has the appropriate time to dedicate to it.”
Recognize that saying “no” once might not be the end all be all. The person asking may really have you in mind as the best (read: only) person for the job. But being clear about your priorities and sticking to them allows a conversation that can help the asker understand why you’re not able to take something on at this time and hopefully prevent awkward “I’m sorry but no” situations in the future.
Saying “no” in friendships/ relationships
Friendships (hopefully, thankfully) are a lot less complicated than work relationships and therefore turning down something with your friends has fewer steps involved than turning down your boss does.
Evaluate if it’s something you really can say no to. Your best friend who held your hand as you cried through your last break up is throwing herself a 25th birthday party on a Saturday night that you’re free? Yeah, you should probably go. But your best friend is asking if you’re down to buy last minute tix to visit Austin, even though you’ve been strapped for cash recently and have a big job interview coming up? Thank u, next.
Determining if this is something you can actually say no to means evaluating both the relationship and the ask. You’re probably close enough with the person to know what’s important to them, what would upset them, and what they would brush off. Make sure you’re saying no to the things that would not be a big deal in their eyes (and that you’re not saying no to them too many times in a row).
Explain your priorities. You shouldn’t have to apologize for wanting to stay in, eat spaghetti, and watch Bravo on some Friday nights rather than going out boozing (okay, this one is clearly a priority of mine). Just like you would at work, make sure you thank them for inviting you, but let them know “hey, this week, work was tough and I got zero sleep. I need to melt my brain with Summer House reruns and maybe I’ll be refueled to go out tomorrow night.”
Saying no properly ultimately comes down to one thing: explaining why it’s a “not right now.” If you have too much on your plate, effectively communicating that can go a long in making sure you’re not overwhelmed.