The Power of Saying No

Creating boundaries between yourself and others

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Setting healthy boundaries at work when you work in the City isn’t easy.

There’s an important element of “firefighting” involved in my City job. Of course, there is no real fire or danger, but to those who are experiencing the problem, it feels like their world is about to fall apart, that their life is on the line, that all clients are lost or that they are on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

I am here to help them get through it, through the stress and through the burst of adrenaline (or should I say the buzz of adrenaline).

The ‘urgency’ of the situation is sometimes questionable. Yet it’s easier to say that once you’ve solved the issue, because it’s so much harder to analyse the situation on the spot and say no.

It gets easier with time and experience: you observe patterns, you get to know people’s strengths and weaknesses, you practice the art of saying ‘no’.

My best tool to set healthy boundaries

Saying no has been my best tool to set healthy boundaries. It allows me to prioritise myself first. It helps you keep sight of your own goals and priorities, no matter what.

If your work involves some ‘firefighting’ too, you won’t be able to say no all the time.
It’s a fact.
But that’s ok.
What’s important is to make sure you say no when it’s required.
It’s about trusting your gut and your own experience too.

Saying no makes us feel uncomfortable

Saying yes is easier: it’s quick, it’s comfortable, and no external damage is caused.
While that may be true, you’ll end up overwhelmed and stressed in the long run.

Let’s look at an example:

Example: Hannah took over from your previous role in the organization 12 months ago. She has a lot on her plate right now and she has asked for your input on one of her project. Really, she’d like you to read the report she has written and get some feedback.

Your reality: Hannah is your friend however you’ve got a lot on your plate too and you are behind on many things and your boss likes projects delivered on time.

You’d love to say no to Hannah and that you can’t help her right now. But you don’t want to let her down. You want to be a good friend and colleague; you want to be supportive.

How to say no and feel good about it

Prioritise your own levels of energy. You deserve to be fully focused on what matters for your right now.
When your annual appraisal time comes around, you won’t be evaluated against how well you’d have helped someone else in the organisation if your own work wasn’t delivered on time or with the quality / focus it required.

Here are 3 steps you can follow to practice saying no.
It is an art for me, because I think you get better at it with time.
Maybe the first time, it will feel forced or fake. But don’t worry, the more nos, the better they’ll feel and the more freedom and time you’ll earn back.

Step 1. Explain the situation you’re living factually

Step 2. Express how you’re feeling

Step 3. Make a request

How will this help me navigate my situation with Hannah? Let’s have a look.

(Step 1. Explain the situation you’re living factually)
Oh well! The topic is complex, no doubt about it.
But my boss gave me those projects to finish before the end of the week, and I am quite behind. I had to deal with an urgent matter yesterday, and that didn’t make things getter.

(Step 2. Express how you’re feeling)
I am feeling a bit stressed that I won’t make it on time. I know how important this project is for the division and I feel anxious about not finishing in time.

(Step 3 – Make a request)
I think I’ll have some time next week to go over your report. Maybe you could let me know of the sections you find the most challenging? We could grab some lunch and we could go through your report over lunch?

No creates boundaries between yourself and others

Giving myself permission to say no has been the best way to truly set healthy boundaries for myself.
Following this 3 steps-method provides me with a framework (aka safety net) if I am feeling a bit nervous. More importantly, it gives me space to keep true to my principles and values (be it professionally or personally): for example, being supportive and showing up for my friends and those who matter to me.

It often takes courage to say no. But setting boundaries sets us free.

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