Do you have trouble saying no? Many people do. If your default answer is yes anytime a friend, family member or co-worker asks you for help, you might be a bit of a people pleaser. If you find yourself feeling exhausted from putting other people’s needs ahead of your own, read on. We’ve got a few solid tips on how to say no without looking like a jerk.
Imagine this scenario: It’s Friday; you’ve got a stack of work on your desk that has to be completed before you go home. By your estimation, you won’t be leaving the office until 7 pm if you stay focused and keep chugging along. However, if you do get out at 7pm, you’ll get home in just enough time for a highly anticipated family movie night with popcorn before the kids go to bed.
A co-worker, equally loaded down with work, comes over to your desk and asks you to take three of her files so that she’ll be able to leave on time to pick up her child from the sitter. You realize that she needs help and there doesn’t seem to be anyone else around who can assist her. She seems desperate and on the verge of tears.
You have a handful of options when it comes to dealing with this difficult scenario:
- Immediately say yes and watch your co-worker’s worried face disappear into a relieved and thankful smile. You’ll have to figure out a way to smooth over your movie night absence and make it up to your family later.
- Raise your eyebrows and display your own stack of files. Then pointedly let your co-worker know that her childcare is not your responsibility as you dismiss her.
- Say no and feel awful about it for the rest of the day and into your weekend.
- Say no gracefully and don’t regret your decision.
The best answer here is definitely number four. But how, you may ask, do I gracefully say no and then not feel terrible about it?
First, understand why you might be feeling compelled to say yes. Many times we say yes because we have an inadequate view of ourselves and our own priorities. Some might call it poor self-esteem or an inferior self-image. In general, though, you might be putting the needs and desires of others ahead of your own. While considering the needs of others first may be perfectly honorable in a marriage or when you’re parenting small children, putting your needs second in all of your relationships is disastrous.
Another reason that you might say yes when you’d rather decline is that you want to avoid conflict. Sometimes you don’t want to offend the person asking for help, so you go along with a request to keep the peace or get along. But is it truly a beneficial relationship if you must agree to something you really don’t want to do, just to avoid making waves?
Other times, we mistakenly think that we must have a good reason to say no. If just wanting a “do-nothing” Saturday doesn’t seem like a good excuse, we’ll say yes because we feel it’s necessary to qualify our responses. If no other plans or good reasons come to mind on the spot, some people feel pressured to give in and agree to whatever is being asked of them. This kind of passive agreement will almost always lead to resentment.
It’s also common to say yes just so you’ll appear to be a kind person. No one wants to seem rude or unhelpful. Particularly in social situations, it can be hard to say no when other people are watching. Saying yes and appearing cooperative may indeed make you look extremely benevolent, but it comes with a price.
You can say no with grace and still keep your friends. There is an answer. You can say no without being a jerk, starting a fight, looking selfish, or losing social media contacts.
- Answer right away. Often someone will send me a text asking for help. If I really don’t want to do it, I’m tempted to delay my response because I hate disappointing my friends. Truly, that’s inconsiderate. If you have already decided you are going to say no, then come right out and say it. That way, your friend can make other arrangements in a timely manner. Respond promptly.
- Don’t get snarky. Sometimes there’s a tendency to overreact to someone’s request when you’re already loaded up with responsibilities and someone asks you for one more thing. “Can’t you see how busy I am? I’ve got sixteen fires to put out at once and now you’re asking me for help…”
No matter how insignificant the request may seem when you’re already overworked and cranky, take a moment to choose your words wisely and respond with kindness. A better response might be: “I’m so sorry, but there’s really no way I can fit that into my schedule right now.”
- Don’t offer lengthy explanations. In all honesty, most people really don’t care why you can’t help. They mostly just need to know if you can or can’t do the job. Compare the following responses:
A. Friend: “Hi Jenny, would you be able to come over and help me organize my master bedroom closet this Saturday?”
Jenny: “I can’t this Saturday. I’ve got to take Junior to soccer practice and then meet my aunt for coffee in the afternoon.”
Friend: “Oh okay, what about after your coffee date? Can you come by to help me then?”
B. Friend: “Hi Jenny, would you be able to come over and help me organize my master bedroom closet this Saturday?”
Jenny: “Oh I’m sorry, this Saturday doesn’t work for me and my overall schedule is full right now. I’ll let you know if something opens up.”
In the first response, Jenny invites further probing by giving out details as to why she can’t help. When you’ve got a persistent pal, keep it vague. You don’t have to give details about why you can’t do it. In the second response, Jenny keeps the details to herself and the ball in her court by telling her friend that she’ll let her know if she happens to become available. This approach turns the tables a bit as well so that the friend won’t be asking about Sunday if Saturday is too busy and the like.
- Give it some sugar. It’s often helpful to sweeten up your negative responses with a compliment. When a coworker invites you over for a barbeque, and you have other plans, say something like, “Thanks for inviting me. That sounds like a really fun evening, but I won’t be able to make it.”
Taking the time to carefully choose a kind and complimentary response is warm and friendly. A friend may be truly disappointed if you can’t make it to his or her event. Do your best to be courteous and soften the blow with nice words.
- Offer an alternative if you can. Often acquaintances will ask me for help with writing. Some of them want to know how to get started in freelance writing and if I could mentor them. Others want to know if I’m available to edit their manuscripts or re-write their resumes. I would love to say yes to each request, but I’m genuinely too busy.
Nonetheless, I’m a freelance writer, so I have tons of professional connections, websites, and podcasts I can suggest for people who want to get started in the field. I also know that there are plenty of decent writers looking for work on particular job boards and that our local library offers free resume writing assistance. When someone approaches me for help and I can easily direct them to a resource, I’m happy to do it.
- Maintain your stance. Remember that your true friends and people that care about you will respect your answer, even if it isn’t what they had hoped to hear. They won’t push you, beg you or attempt to manipulate you into complying with their requests. If it seems like saying no is going to cause someone to throw a fit, retaliate or treat you poorly, stand firm and then reevaluate your relationship. A rational adult who is worthy of your companionship will give you the respect and freedom to make your own decisions.
Nonetheless, if someone is being a bit pushy and won’t take no as your first answer, kindly and firmly repeat yourself. Most of the time, your firmness and repetition will do the trick. However, if you can see that the other person is going to continually try and persuade you, politely excuse yourself from the room. You’ve stated your response and done so gracefully. A little space will likely give finality to your words and end the conversation.
There are plenty of times in life when it will be necessary for you to say no. Doing so without hurting your friends and loved ones or looking like a brute is a useful skill that you’ll need all throughout your life. Apply some of these techniques so that you can effectively and kindly say no without feeling like the bad guy.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” – Warren Buffett
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