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Saying No Well

'Learning to say no without guilt is the greatest gift you can give yourself'


From the book Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home). Copyright ©2017 by Morra Aarons-Mele. Reprinted by permission of Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Learning to say no without guilt is the greatest gift you can give yourself, and one of the hardest things to do, especially for women. If you’re going to succeed in setting boundaries, you need to learn how to say no. (And think twice about the next time you start a no with “I’m sorry.” You don’t have to be sorry just because you’re saying no.)

That’s where a framework comes in. I asked my community on Face- book for their words of wisdom on saying no with grace and strength.

Beth Monaghan, founder of the hundred-person PR agency Inkhouse, learned to say no by writing down her goals for the year, and literally carrying them around. “Every time something comes up, I can ask, ‘Does this help me achieve a goal?’ If the answer is no, I say no. And if I’m trying to convince myself to say yes, it’s still probably a no.”

MBA coach Andrea Sparrey envisions some of her fondest mentors in her head and imagines what they would counsel her to do if she explained the yes/no dilemma to them.

Entrepreneur Lauren Bacon’s method: “I always respond with a variant of ‘Thanks so much for the invitation! Let me sleep on it and get back to you first thing tomorrow.’ That allows me time to step back, look at my goal list, and figure out how I really want to answer.”

Author Samantha Ettus, the queen of anti-guilt, told me, “Guilt never creates good decisions. I would not want someone to say yes to me out of guilt, so I don’t allow guilt to determine my decisions.”

Podcast entrepreneur Molly Beck says no as quickly as possible and then suggests another person to take her place, trying especially to offer opportunities to people who might not otherwise get them.

For Elisa Camahort Page no can mean not right now. I really agree with this. A good, firm no allows you to maintain a relationship with the other person, and you never know where that will lead. Any businessperson will tell you that a no can turn into a yes over time. And, if you’re feeling anxious about saying no to someone with whom you’d like to have a long- term business relationship, it’s okay to reconsider and say yes to something that will eat up your time without compensation.Many in my kitchen cabinet suggest practicing your noes, or having a few ready-made responses. I love Deb Roby’s script for a graceful no: “Thank you for thinking of me; I am honored. However, this project does not line up with my goals for this (cycle/quarter/season/year), so I will have to decline.” Here’s a final note for those of us with anxiety: sometimes you can talk yourself into a no when you really mean yes. Practice tuning into your gut reaction upon hearing an invitation. If you’re excited about an opportunity at first, only to let anxiety set in later, let the excitement win over anxiety. For example, you’re invited to a wonderful conference in a faraway city, and you’re thrilled. You say yes, and immediately feel anxiety: What if your plane crashes on the way? What if you make a fool of yourself? Try to work through this and tune back to your excitement. Anxiety can be negotiated with.

Morra Aarons-Mele is the author of Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home). Morra is the founder of award winning social impact agency Women Online, hosts the podcast Hiding in the Bathroom, and created the influencer network The Mission List. She was founding Political Director for BlogHer.com, and has written for the Harvard Business Review, the Huffington Post, MomsRising, Forbes, the Wall St. Journal, the New York Times, and The Guardian. Aarons-Mele is a graduate of Brown University and the Harvard Kennedy School, and lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

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