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How to say no in 4 easy steps

Member of the Land Police Post Holding Up a Stop Sign

In the musical Oklahoma! the character Ado Annie laments how she’s “just a girl who cain’t say no.” Of course, Ado Annie only has that problem with “fellers” who get flirty and talk “purty.” She may be a little scandalous for her time, but you get the feeling Ado Annie doesn’t really regret being one to “never make a complaint ’til it’s too late for restraint.”

Too bad that can’t be said of the rest of us.

For most people, being unable to say no is a source of constant conflict. On one hand, we want to be accommodating. On the other, we’re tired of believing people are continually taking advantage of us.

So how do you say no without feeling you’ve let others down or jeopardized your position or relationship? Follow this path:

1. Take your time. Never give an immediate response unless you’re being asked to do something you a) really want to do, b) are sure you are capable of doing, and c) know you have time to do. If you’re unsure about your desire, ability, or schedule, defer. Tell the petitioner you’ll have to think about it and return later with your decision. If the person insists on an immediate answer, give your regrets. Don’t let yourself be bullied into making split-second decisions about things you’re not sure are in your best interest.

2. Be honest with yourself. Is this something you want to do? If not, then why are you considering it? Ask yourself these questions:

• Are you trying to be helpful? Charity is not something you do grudgingly. If you can’t feel good about it, why bother?
• Are you obligated? Is this a genuine obligation or is someone in your life bilking a long-forgotten good deed? Maybe it’s time to call it even.
• Are you qualified? Perhaps your ambivalence stems from a fear that you’re not the right person for the job. Could you suggest someone better?
• Are you afraid? Do you feel that if you don’t fulfill this request it may damage your friendship or position in the company? Are you overreacting? If not, is the friendship or company standing worth the sacrifice? Is there another way to earn security without having to say yes to something you don’t want to do?

3. Consider possible alternatives. Usually when people make a request, they give you one choice. But that’s not necessarily your only option. If you can’t, for instance, take your kids to a water park for the day, perhaps you can take them to a pool for a couple of hours. If you can’t take over a project for a colleague, perhaps you can take over one portion of the project. If you don’t have time to dig through your garage looking for items to sell at a charity fundraiser, perhaps you can simply make a donation. Consider whether you can make a counteroffer to take the sting out of the no.

4. Deliver the news. Once you’ve examined your motives, schedule, abilities, and feelings, and considered possible alternatives, you can make a decision that works for you. Then you’ll need to inform those asking the favors. State your decision politely but firmly—for instance: “I’m sorry, but I checked my schedule and I won’t be able to attend that evening.” Or to your boss: “I’m honored you feel I can handle this project, but I have two others due at the same time. If you want me to take on this project, I’ll have to drop one of the others. Which would you like to reassign?” Or to your friend: “Rumaki sounds delicious and I’m sure it will be a hit at the bridal shower, but since I’ve never made it I’ll need to bring something else.”

If they try to debate you, just keep smiling and expressing your firm regret. As long as they don’t melt your resolve by, um, acting flirty and talking purty, you shouldn’t have trouble sticking to your no.

  • rachel r hickman:

    This is fantastic! It is so precise and practical. I will try to implement this advice in my own life – I need to!

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