Establishing boundaries on your time is critical so that you can prioritize and stay focused on what’s most important to you. But if you hate disappointing people, saying “no” can be a real challenge. Believe it or not, it is possible to refuse requests with grace. In fact, you can even empower the requester in the process! Mastering this skill will give you the time and energy you need to achieve what you really want. Here are some pointers to get you started:
1. Know when to say “no”.
If you don’t want to do something, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Ask yourself if it serves a higher purpose; is it in line with your values and goals? Gauge your internal reaction. Do you secretly feel resentful? A negative internal reaction, coupled with no clear connection to a greater personal goal, probably means you should be limiting, if not eliminating, this activity from your life.
2. Know why you are saying “no”.
Usually there is a positive standard or value you are upholding when you say no. You’ve committed to getting home from work before the kids go to bed, to exercise during your lunch hour, to get some reading or quiet time in order to balance your life. Protecting something positive gives your position validity and increases your confidence.
3. Acknowledge your Requester’s position.
When someone comes to you with a request, it’s usually to help solve a problem or achieve a goal. At first, “no” may seem like lack of appreciation for the situation itself. Acknowledging the problem puts you on the same side of the fence and sets the stage for exploring different possibilities. Example: “I know how important this project is to you; what other resources are available?”
4. Offer alternative solutions.
If you provide alternatives, you are helping without taking on unwanted tasks. The alternative may or may not involve you. Examples: “I have a class I don’t want to miss tonight, but I’d be willing to open up my morning for you.” Or, “I’m studying this week, but I know a website that has the information you are looking for”.
5. Shift the focus.
Moving the focus away from you and towards your requester’s success re-enforces your personal connection and ends the conversation on a positive note. Convey confidence in their ability to handle the situation, shine, and even benefit from the challenge. Example: “You’ve been working hard, and I know you’ll make a great impression. I bet one of the sales reps would be honored to assist”.
When someone comes to you for help, looking desperate and stressed, remember that their stress is about their problem, not about your role in it. If you want to help, by all means, get involved. But keep in mind, your time is your responsibility, and you must choose what you are willing to take on. You can be a great friend and offer incredible support just by being there to help someone calm down and get re-centered. What’s important is focusing on positive solutions, not the degree of your involvement.