5 of the Best Ways to Tell People ‘No’
If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed or stressed lately, there may be a hidden reason for that: You just can’t bring yourself to say “no” to people. You might be a people-pleaser, maybe you don’t like letting others down, or maybe you genuinely don’t know how to say no because that’s just the kind of person you are. Maybe you’re trying to impress your boss, a co-worker, or family member by taking on a herculean level of responsibility (why?), or you were taught to always be a team player no matter what, and that somehow makes you more likable. Why are you continuing to sacrifice yourself and your sanity when you don’t really have to? There’s a way to say no, without really saying no.
While you certainly have the right idea — pitching in and being helpful is a fantastic quality to possess, you are just one human being, and there are only so many hours in a day. Although you have your eyes set on success, those who achieve the kind of success you’re looking for don’t burn themselves out in the process — they do so by knowing how to say no. The key to approaching the best ways to say no is to say it politely, but firmly, in a way that does not make you come across as a crass jerk.
Here are some useful ways to tell people no without shirking responsibility or saying it outright.
1. “How would you like me to prioritize this project?”
This particular phrase is something you would say to your superior, when saying no outright is not really an option. This shows your willingness to do the work but are seeking their executive recommendation on how it should be prioritized amongst your other obligations. Believe it or not, this “just say no” tactic shows your willingness to be flexible and how much you care about your job. You want to get everything done; it’s just a matter of prioritizing. This phrase should not be uttered in a “woe is me” attitude, and do not complain about how overloaded you are, or whine about it. You are simply being a responsible employee and doing your job to the best of your ability.
2. “I’m booked until (insert date here). I would be happy to put this on my list if you’d like.”
This is one of the most polite ways to say that you can’t possibly add another thing to your plate but would be happy to take care of it at another time. This could be used on anyone but your superior (or any person you have to report to). It also demonstrates your willingness to help, while letting them know your schedule is firm and that you’re sticking to it. However, if the project is super-emergency-level urgent maybe suggest someone else who can give them a hand.
3. “What is the deadline for this?/When do you need this done?”
This is not only a fantastic way to say no, or at least push the project or responsibility to a later time, but by asking it will be made clear exactly what is expected of you and when it is expected, i.e. how time sensitive the project or responsibility is. Take this chance to slow down and consider what is being asked of you and when, and then decide whether you want to take it on.
4. “Let me check my schedule and get back to you.”
This can be a useful phrase if you find yourself cornered. Some people have a way of being incredibly persistent but you need to stand your ground. This type of person can be very sneaky with getting you to say “yes”– and you might not even realizing you’re agreeing until after the fact. Just drop this phrase and you’re sure to get them off your back. Then after you’ve checked your calendar, you can say that you’re sorry but you actually have no time to do this. Although face-to-face communication or calling someone is preferable, in this instance, email should suffice. You don’t need to offer any elaborate excuses, they just need to know that you can’t do it right now. Sorry.
5. “I’m sorry, but no,” or “I cannot take on this extra responsibility/project at this time. My plate is too full.”
This is the full-proof polite way to say no. Listen to what is being asked and then nicely turn that person down. Don’t forget to give an explanation as to why you cannot help. You’re not superman and your priorities are your priorities for a reason.
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