Saying 'no' is difficult.
If you say 'no', you risk upsetting people and you risk conflict. You risk getting a reputation for being negative and unhelpful. And don't get me started on FOMO (fear of missing out).
But learning to say 'no' might be the most important investment you make in your wellbeing, ever.
Why Should You Say No?
If you Google 'say no' and 'motivational quotes', you'll find a plethora of Instagram-worthy wisdom. Usually, I'd steer clear, but I found a few (unattributed) gems:
- Saying 'no' often means you can say YES to things that matter.
- Sometimes, you need to say NO to others to say YES to yourself.
If you say 'no' to the right things - things that don't align with your core beliefs and life's priorities - you create space to focus on what's important.
One of my core beliefs is that I need to take care of my mental health and wellbeing to do my best work and be my best self; this is an underpinning principle of my wellbeing-driven productivity approach.
To do this, sometimes, I have to say 'no'.
How to Say No
Here are eight ways to say 'no'.
1. Unambiguous No
Be unambiguous - use the word 'no' immediately; be clear and don't waffle. Walk away if you have to.
2. Broken Record No
The broken record technique is best deployed in more heated discussions. Calmly but firmly repeat your 'no'. For example: 'no, this simply cannot happen today, no, as I explained…'
3. Empathetic No
Acknowledge how the other person will feel when you say 'no' but still say it. Empathise. Validate that person's feelings if they need it, for example, 'no, I cannot - I know you will be upset and disappointed, but…'
4. Win-Win No
Offer two alternatives that better suit your needs. For example, if a colleague asks, 'do you have a minute to talk about something?' and you are busy, so want to say no, offer two wins. For example, 'I'd love to talk to you. I can speak to you at 10 am when I am on my break or at 4 pm when I have finished my project work. What would you prefer?'
5. No + Because
Try following your 'no' with a 'because'. The 'because' can, in the right circumstances, help the 'no' be understood. You might need to use another strategy to reinforce your 'no' afterwards.
6. No + Alternative
Offer an alternative: 'no, I cannot do this for you but what I can do is…'
7. No + Body Language
Use your body language and facial expression to reinforce your 'no' - ensure your face matches your message.
8. No + Consequences
The 'no + consequences' strategy can work well when a line manager asks you to do something you consider to be unreasonable. Rather than breaking down and saying, 'I am so stressed - I can't cope with this on top of the million other things I have to do today', explain 'if I do this now then X will not get completed - what is your preference?' It's not a direct no, but it is still an effective strategy in the right circumstances.
Saying No at Work
Working out when to say 'no' at work is complicated. I have recommended you focus on your life's priorities and core beliefs; I stand by that; however, in the workplace, you have a job description to consider. Clearly, you cannot simply say 'no' to the bits of your job you do not like.
The 'no' I recommend you practice at work should be used when things are unreasonable, outside the scope of your role, or force you to sacrifice your wellbeing. Your employer benefits when you are happy and well - everyone wins.
Of course, you shouldn't say 'no' to everything, but at the very least, make it an option. Saying 'no' now means you can say 'yes' to something extraordinary in the future. Deploy your 'yes' with care - ensure you are in the right place mentally and physically to act on it.