Someone at work sends you an email asking if you would be willing to join them in project at work. You could do it – it wouldn’t be difficult, but you don’t necessarily want to. You feel bad declining the request because you want to maintain your work relationship. So you say yes, but then immediately realize you have so much on your plate.
We’ve all be there. I find myself regretting saying “yes” more than saying “no”. Once I figured out how to say no, and overcome the discomfort the first few times actually doing it, there has been an entire shift in how I value time and myself as a whole.
If you look at some of the top leaders in the world, they describe their path to success more in focusing on what they don’t do. For example, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates make a point to sincerely evaluate what truly needs to be done by them versus a team member, or not at all.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”Warren Buffett
Here’s how to assertively say “no” that make you more productive and happy in life.
The first step of this process is actually more-so before the ask from someone else. If you know what is important to you, it’s a lot easier to know how to allocate your time.
When my company went through layoffs, it turned my priority list out of whack. The reflection made me realize the higher level effects of my every day choices. I realized that living in New York City with my partner is of highest priority. That meant that my job prospects were limited by geography, and I could change my day-to-day job responsibilities to ensure the priority of location is met.
On a larger level, it meant that my non-work life means more to me than what I do at my job. That’s not to say that I don’t value my job. I want to do well with something that fulfills me, but it’s not my entire identity.
It doesn’t need to take fear of losing your job to set your priorities. All it takes is intentional reflection on what your goals are for both life and work. Do you want to be promoted in a certain number of years? Do you want to run a marathon this year? Do you want to grow your side hustle? Write these priorities down and be proud of them.
There’s a difference between having time and something being worth your time. We all have the same amount of time each day. When someone asks you to do something, it means that it will take away from something else. As you evaluate saying “yes” or “no” to a request, really think about how much your time is worth – how much you are worth. Think about the priorities you set for yourself, and place requests next to those. Where do they fall? Some considerations include:
Think about time not just as money, but as life currency. With this mindset, everything becomes a negotiation with what is truly important to you.
After evaluating the request, if you’ve decided to say yes but have some reservations then you can propose a counter-offer.
By stating, and not asking, it places the burden on the other person to ask you for more. If they counter, this is okay. What you’ve done is started a dialogue and shown that you do have boundaries.
Sometimes the directives come from your boss and thus you feel like you have no choice. If this is the case, you can still request a dialogue. Set one-on-one time with them to brainstorm together how you can re-arrange priorities. Come to the table with the list of everything on your plate at work and ask your boss what tasks are most urgent. I’ve found a lot of times that discussion enlightens my boss to things I shouldn’t have been doing anymore and allows space for new responsibilities.
When you’re ready to say no, practice it. Consider writing it down and even play it out verbally with a partner/mentor. Focus on being succinct without apology or further explanation. It is tempting to provide the list of reasons why you decline because you feel this strengthens your case, but you don’t necessarily owe this to anyone. If you feel the need to offer an explanation, wait for the follow-up question if there is one. Allow for brief empty silence while remembering your rationale, then make your final points for closure.
If you’re concerned about being the person who isn’t a team player because you don’t say yes to everything, how you say no will save the day. Here are a few options:
Saying “no” is hard. It’s uncomfortable. However, like a muscle it is skill that strengthens with practice and time. We’ve been developed in an environment that praises how much you can get done in the shortest amount of time. Personally, this has led to one burnout episode after another. It’s had a lot of collateral damage to my wellbeing, relationships with others, and overall outlook on life.
By setting yourself at the center for how you spend your time, others will come to understand what you value. You’ll find that saying “no” to others, really is a “yes” to yourself.