How to Say No More

Do you find that you have a hard time saying “no” when something is asked of you?

Many people feel like they can't say no when people ask them to do something. When someone asks for their help they have said yes before they have even thought about whether they can help or not.

By the end of this article you will have an understanding of the impact of saying yes all the time, you will feel much more in control and you will be able to say no without upsetting people.

For some of us it’s our upbringing that leads us to say yes all the time. Many of us are raised in such a manner that we feel we should always be helping others. That we should always be willing to lend a helping hand whenever possible. And many of us are taught that to get ahead in our work life, we should be willing to “do what it takes” and take on additional responsibilities. That you have to work hard to get to the top of your profession. These things are true to a point. But when we always say yes to things that are asked of us we risk burnout and overcommitting ourselves. So let’s look at how to say no politely and professionally.

Saying Yes all the Time Isn’t a Good Thing

People who do that are called people-pleasers. It’s not bad, of course, to help out when asked to or pitch in when needed. The problem arises when you say yes to everything and you never feel as though you can refuse. Saying yes to everyone all the time can lead to negative consequences.

One of the worst things that come from saying yes all the time is a growing feeling of resentment towards others. If we think about our school days and your friend who never does his homework asks you yet again for your notes, how does that make you feel?

Or say you are training a new person on your team. You show them how to do something. And then you show them again. And again. After a few months, you realise you are doing a tonne of this person’s work simply because they ask for your help again and again, claiming they didn’t quite get it.

Something else that commonly happens when we say yes all the time is we become fatigued, both mentally and physically. If you have to lose sleep in order to check everything off your to do list and a lot of that is for other people, you’re going to end up getting more and more tired.

I know from experience when I am trying to tackle too much, I have a hard time sleeping because I can’t shut my brain off. I can’t turn it off because I keep thinking about everything I have to take care of, much of it not impacting my own life. This is taxing to say the least.

When we end up doing more than we should for other people, we’re not working on our own lives as much as we should.

We can get to the point of feeling like we aren’t even living our lives because we are paying too much attention and time to things that are important in other people’s lives. This is not a good place to be in at all.

An extreme example of this is someone that is taking care of another person who can’t take care of themselves for one reason or another. Of course, we want to be there for our loved ones when they need our help. That said, when one person has to take care of another for an extended period, it can feel like the person tending doesn’t have their own life any longer.

One of the best ways to get to a place of how to say no politely and professionally is to establish boundaries. Boundaries are something I learned about later than I would have liked to but once you discover them, it’s a very freeing feeling to establish them in your life.

Boundaries are essentially something you create in order to live the type of life you want to. It’s sort of like a set of guidelines that you have set in your life. From time to time, you share them with others depending on the situation.

Some examples may include working no more than 45 hours in a week at your job, or not staying in an unhealthy relationship. We typically learn to set our boundaries when something happens in our lives that makes us say ”I don’t want that situation again.” Here are some examples of boundaries:

Now let’s find out how to say no politely and professionally in order to keep our sanity.

The key to saying no politely and professionally is to frame the “No” in different, positive manners so you’re not just awkwardly staring back at someone and then mumbling “I can’t do it”.

There are different ways to say no to various people you interact with in a way that works for you, and still be polite and respectful towards the other person. The key is to focus on positive helpful language, what you can do and re-direct the other person. Providing options in a helpful polite way means that people feel less rejected and you don’t awaken any self esteem issues in their chimp brain. This is a really important thing to understand.

Saying No to Your Boss

Saying no to your boss can be intimidating. And unless you enjoy eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at your desk, sometimes you will reach a point where you have to tell your boss thanks but no thanks.

To your boss, you want to paint the picture that you are honoured to have been considered for the additional work, but other priorities will make that not possible right now. Something along the lines of:

“I really appreciate you thinking of me for this project. Currently I was planning on spending this week/month on projects X,Y, and Z. Those were marked as high priorities for me to complete”.

“Thanks so much for bringing this to me. Right now I have a full load working on project X & Y. Would you prefer I set aside that work and spend my time on this new project instead?”

“I can do it but it would delay other work.”

“I can do it but I can’t start it until { date }”

Saying No to Your Colleagues

I love helping out my colleagues and really appreciate their help from time to time as well. However, sometimes I am not able to lend a helping hand due to the workload I have at the moment. In this case, you’ll want to keep it as close to the truth and as respectful as possible.

“That’s a great project to be heading up Bob, you must be delighted! Thanks for asking for my help. I’m not sure this is an area of strength for me though, I’d probably slow things down.”

“You know I normally love doing this type of work Bob and I really appreciate you asking for my help. Unfortunately, the timing isn’t good for me, our boss Mark has me working on a presentation to the SMT for next week”.

Saying No to Your Clients

Saying no to a client can be tough. After all, they are the ones paying you. The main thing here is to make sure your client feels heard and understood. Once you fully listen to their input or want, share with them how you are addressing this very issue from another angle.

“You know Bob, I completely get what you are saying and couldn’t agree more. I was thinking the same. I’ll put it forward to do at the next review.”

“Bob that is great, I appreciate you pointing that out and bringing it up to make sure we address it. Mandy on the team has been looking into that as well, I’ll ask her to share her thoughts on what she has discovered in our meeting on Thursday.”

“We’re working on being able to include that feature at some point. It’s great that you want it. I’ll feed that back to the team.”

“We need the proper amount of time to make sure the service we provide is the best. If we did it in that timescale, that would be compromised. Our minimum delivery time on this is…”

“I’d like to say yes, of course, but I need to check with the team before committing them to what might be undeliverable. I’ll get back to you as soon as I know ... I suspected as much, Bob, but we can’t do what you want just yet, but what we can do is option A, B, C…”

Saying No in Your Personal Life

With people in your personal life, it’s best to say no and the reason why. Maybe you’ve already got something else planned, or it could be you just don’t want to. Of course, you want to be respectful of people’s feelings; but with your closer, more personal relationships, it’s best to be honest about why you are saying no.

One of my rules to help keep me on the path of not always saying yes is that I am always happy to help someone, providing they are doing the main work. After all, someone is asking me for my help in their life, so they should be the one doing the heavy lifting, they should be showing you ‘buy in’.

So if a friend needs help with money, I’d offer to help her make a budget. She would need to set up the spreadsheet and call me and I’d be happy to help her. When someone has asked me to help them in their house, “of course I’m happy to help – here is when I am available” or “I’m afraid, I am not available today, I already have things planned.” Or when it’s a proposed visit from relatives that doesn’t work for you, “That would have been lovely but I’m afraid it doesn’t work for us, how about option A, B, or C.” I have to do this with my mum almost every weekend as she rings last minute and is really keen to see us. She would always prefer we make the trip over to theirs and we put most of the effort in, which I’m often happy to do. This weekend that didn’t work as I have friend coming over to go on a walk in the afternoon. So I said, ‘That doesn’t work for us as I have Colin coming over at 1pm for the afternoon, why don’t you get ready now and pop over and we’ll go for a quick walk together.” Her response was, “Yes that’s what we’ll do. See you at 11.”

With a little luck, you’ve learned something about how to say no politely and professionally. Helping others out from time to time is great, it’s nice to know that you can count on others when needed and visa versa. It helps us feel connected and part of something greater than ourselves.

Unfortunately, it can become too easy to say yes to too many requests for help. This can lead to resentment and burnout. When someone asks for your help, take a moment to consider if it’s something you genuinely want to do and can do, or if it’s better to say no politely and professionally. Relaxing is important for our recovery on an ongoing basis. If helping someone else out means that you get zero recovery time this weekend then think very carefully on what the impact of that will be on your own mental well-being and that of those around you. If your excessive tiredness will mean you’re an unpleasant person to work or live with until you get time to rest then it’s probably better to have said no, or suggested a compromise. I have one rule on my not to do list and it’s not to say yes without fully checking the consequences.