“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” - Theodore Roosevelt
People are always going to ask you to do things for them. That’s life. Often we are asked to make commitments we don’t feel comfortable with, don’t have time for, or just plain don’t want to make- but saying “no” makes us feel even worse than agreeing to something we don’t like.
Women especially fall victim to the over-commitment syndrome. You should make it a habit to say “no” more often, particularly when you know that agreeing to take on a certain commitment is going to wreak havoc with your life, even though the little voice in your head is telling you accepting would be the “nice” thing to do. When it comes to your sanity, the nicest thing is to make sure you don’t over-extend yourself and end up performing a large number of tasks with substandard results.
The first step in learning to say no is deciding which things you should agree to commit to, and which things are all right to pass on. This decision should stem from your personal priorities; the things that are important to you and your life. This is one reason why it’s important to define your goals clearly when you begin using the power of positive thinking. Weigh each request against your goals and decide whether agreeing to them would move you closer or further away from your objectives.
When you come to a point where you must refuse a request, there are several ways to say no without hurting feelings or making yourself appear inconsiderate. Be as honest as possible when saying no, and you will be able to proceed with a guilt-free conscience.
Need an excuse? Here are the top ten ways to say no nicely:
1. “No.” Sometimes, the best way to refuse is politely, but directly. If someone in your life is constantly asking you to do things they could easily handle themselves, a firm “no” is the only way to get them to stop. Another approach to problematic people with frequent requests is to tell them, “I know you’ll do a great job handling it on your own.”
2. “I’m in the middle of several other projects/commitments right now.” Don’t be afraid to tell people when you’re busy. Most will respect your schedule and find another way to fulfill their requests for help. You shouldn’t be expected to drop tasks you’ve already committed to in order to complete new ones.
3. “I need to focus on [my career, my family, my personal life] at the moment.” If you’re going through a difficult time in another area of your life that requires your attention, don’t hesitate to refuse taking on extra requests. You don’t necessarily have to explain your specific reasoning for taking a pass; just indicate that you
4. “I don’t feel I’m the best person to handle that task.” When you don’t feel qualified to handle something requested of you, say so. Explain that you don’t want to do a poor job, because you know this task is important to the person asking you to do it. Chances are, they want the task done well, too.
5. “I can’t do it, but I know someone else who can.” Only use this “no” form if you truly know someone who can not only handle the task, but has the time to do it. It’s nice to be able to offer alternative help, but only if you can follow through on your offer. Referring people to someone else who won’t be able to help either will be viewed as a brush-off; the person who originally came to you will think you never actually wanted to help them in the first place.
6. “I’m not comfortable/don’t enjoy doing that.” Stick to your guns. If you’re asked to do something that seems wrong or a task you despise doing, don’t agree to it and explain why. This way you will be able to avoid repeat requests for the same thing.
7. “I can’t help right now, but ask me later.” Again, be honest with this statement. If you really do want to help out, but just don’t have the time when the request is made, let the person asking you know that you’d be happy to help out when you can. If possible, give them a specific availability, like tomorrow or next week, when you know you’ll be free. If they need the task done before then, they will find someone else.
8. “I have no experience with this type of task.” This is similar to stating you’re not the best person for the job, but more significant- at least for you. When you take on a task for someone else, you shouldn’t have to learn a whole new skill set just to complete one thing. However, if it’s something you were planning to learn anyway, you might want to take advantage of the opportunity to learn something new.
9. “I know you want to [other person’s objective] but I can’t get away from [other commitment] right now.” This is a polite way to acknowledge the needs of the other person while refusing to overburden yourself. This can also open the opportunity to handle the root issue of the request in a way that is convenient for both of you.
10. “No, but...” If for whatever reason you can’t commit to a request, you can offer an alternative that would be beneficial to the situation. Perhaps you’re unable to perform the specific task requested, but there is another aspect of the project you would be able to help out with. Again, this leaves your options open without making you seem callous or unconcerned with whomever is making a request of you.
Practice saying no both at home and at work, whenever you’re asked to take on more than you know you can handle. Overextending yourself can be a hard habit to break, but it is an essential step in getting out of your own way so you can accomplish your life’s goals. You deserve time for yourself, and you must be responsible for ensuring your personal needs are met.