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The Art of Saying No

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The Art of Saying NO


Many a times, in different situations of our lives, we all face this moment when we got to choose between this thin line of saying a “Yes” and a “No”. It is said that making the right choice is itself the most difficult choice that we have to make, and after all it’s the choices that define us. It has been found on a general human characteristic basis, that saying a “No” is often a more difficult and sometimes an inhuman task to carry upon.  

What is ‘The Art of Saying No’?

It’s a simple fact that we can never be productive if we take on too many commitments — we simply spread ourselves too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time. But requests for our time keep coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, we have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

It can be difficult to say “no”,” but it’s a critical skill if we are to protect our own priorities, time, and even our mental wellbeing. Saying “no” does not mean we’re rejecting the other person; it means that we’re turning down a specific request that the person is making of our time and energy.

 What’s so hard about saying ‘No’?

Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person we’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if we hope to work with that person in the future, we’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

Let me give an honest example. Let’s suppose one of my faculty members have asked me to take over the task of organizing an event for the upcoming inter college music festival. Now it’s actually a huge responsibility and the brighter side of it is that I could get to learn a lot from this experience and also it would draw the entire faculty’s attention and they would certainly take a note of the efforts I would be putting in. But then there’s a major bottleneck. I’m packed with three internal exams on that very week, two case study presentations and a speech that I need to prepare for my next Toastmaster’s session .  Given this scenario, what should I ideally do to handle the circumstances so that each of them gets an equal importance?

 It’s definitely a difficult ask. On one hand I have certain useful responsibilities to take on and some impression to make, while on the other hand, I have an entire bulk of academic objectives to deal with at the same time.

Now, as difficult as the situation may be, this is where the art of saying ‘No’ comes in handy.

Did You Know?

People who have trouble saying NO and who do things for other people but almost never ask anybody to do things for them are called as people pleasers. People pleasers think of other people’s needs before their own. They worry about what other people want, think, or need, and spend a lot of time doing things for others. They rarely do things for themselves, and feel guilty when they do. It’s hard being a people pleaser.

People pleasers hold back from saying what they really think or from asking for what they want if they think someone will be upset with them for it. Yet they often spend time with people who don’t consider their needs at all. In fact, people pleasers often feel driven to make insensitive or unhappy people feel better – even at the detriment to themselves.

Constantly trying to please other people is draining and many people pleasers feel anxious, worried, unhappy, and tired a lot of the time. They may not understand why no one does anything for them, when they do so much for others – but they often won’t ask for what they need.

There are many ways to reduce our tendencies to please others or in other words, imbibe the Gentle Art of Saying No.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Valuing time: We need to know our commitments, and how valuable our precious times are. Then, when someone asks us to dedicate some of our time to a new commitment, we’ll know that we simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Knowing priorities: Even if we do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way we want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my friends and family, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practising saying no: Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as we can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, we should just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. No apologies: A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. We need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding our time.
  5. To Stop being nice: Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurt us. When we make it easy for people to grab our time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if we erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. We need to show them that our time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on our top priority list) as possible.
  6. To say no to our bosses:  Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — we should ideally explain to our boss that by taking on too many commitments, we are weakening our productivity and jeopardizing our existing commitments. Now, if our bosses insist that we take on the project, we should go over our project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much we can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting.:It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If we know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, we should just say to everyone as soon as we enter into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to ourselves: Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person we’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow us to give it some consideration, and check our commitments and priorities. Then, if we can’t take on the request, we should simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least we gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that we’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [a given time frame].” Next time, when they check back with us, we might have some free time on our hands..

The inappropriate “no”

It’s important to distinguish appropriate vs. inappropriate times of saying “no.” Saying “no” for the sake and principle is probably not a good idea. Impulsively saying “no” when we’re in a bad mood is also not the best move. When we’re new on the job we should wait until we build relationships and learn the ropes before deciding to say “no.”



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