We all have occasions when other people approach us with a request, a new commitment, a task, etc., that would require our time. For most of us, to say “No” to people is not the easiest thing to do, right? Yet saying “No” is one of the most powerful skills you need to have in order to be effective.

Remember, motives are critical. We don’t say “No” because we’re selfish, but to be less so. Our lives have more meaning for everybody when they are devoted to the most important things. The “good” is often the enemy of the “best”, and we need to keep that in mind as we consider using this handy tool, the simple word “No.”

Why are we afraid to say “No”?

Do you have a hard time saying “No” to people’s requests? Do you feel like you’re not being “nice” when you say “No”? Well, you are not alone 🙂 Most people experience that from time to time, and some do all the time. When I was younger, I personally did not do well at managing different requests and saying “No” when I should have, but as my understanding of where I fit into the bigger picture has matured, I have gotten better at this. Even now, though, I still experience hesitation at times.

Here are a few reasons we’re afraid to say “No” to people, from my observations:

1) Our personality

We all are wired differently as personalities and that affects how we view ourselves and other people. It affects how we respond in stressful situations, how we approach tasks and daily work. Some personalities are more focused on people and relationships, some more on tasks and results. Some people are more responders, some more initiators. The beauty of this is – we’re all valuable 🙂 There is no wrong or right in regard to personalities. But for some types of personalities, especially for those who are more people-oriented, it is just harder to say “No” to people, so they need to put more effort into this area.

2) Afraid of being rude

Most of us were raised in cultures where the word “No” is associated with something negative and sometimes saying “No” is even considered to be rude. In reality, though, it all depends on the way you say it and the attitude behind it. Saying “No” does not mean that you aren’t a nice person; it simply means that you have personal priorities and boundaries.

3) Fear of “what people will think of me”

This usually comes from our insecurities and how we view ourselves. We cannot please everyone, so there always will be someone who does not like us for something. Just accept it. Remember, this is Your life and you are responsible for how and where you spend your time, so choose whether you’re going to live on your terms or on other people’s terms.

Three simple steps – how to say No to people

1) Do not respond immediately

When you are approached with a request, don’t commit right away. Just because someone has sent you the request, does not mean it is important for you or that you need to engage. Take time to evaluate how it fits into your priorities, calendar and responsibilities, and then reply. Otherwise you will constantly face the fact that others are planning your weeks, reducing your productivity to enhance theirs.

You can say something like

“Let me think about it first and I’ll get back to you.” Specify a time by which you will respond and mark it in your calendar to follow-up.

If someone has interrupted you when you’re busy, say something like

“Right now I’m in the middle of something. How about we reconnect at X time? Please call me at X or send me an email with more info.”

Sometimes the issue might already be solved by that time, but even if you still need to discuss it with the other person, you will be more prepared.

2) Know and double-check your priorities

It is easier to protect your time when you’re clear about your own priorities and goals. If your days are booked and planned out in advance, it’s much, much easier to say to people,

“I’d love to, but I can’t, because I already have other commitments scheduled for that period that require my full attention.”

And if realize you really do want to commit to something that is being offered, but your schedule does not allow it at the moment, you can always suggest a different date or solution.

For example, a few weeks ago I was asked to speak to a group of people. My schedule is pretty booked for the next few months, so I suggested a different date that will not compromise other commitments I’ve already made, and to avoid putting extra pressure on my schedule. It worked out fine and I’m happy I said “No” to the date initially proposed.

3) Do not provide long explanations and apologies

When you say “No”, don’t go for long explanations like, “Unfortunately, I can’t do that, since we’re going to celebrate our friend’s birthday this weekend and need to do a lot of preparations before that.” 🙂  Just say

“Unfortunately, I cannot come or cannot commit to this, as I already have plans / commitments for that day.”

Long explanations and long apologies don’t help you. The more you say, the more likely people will see it as simply an excuse or that you’re not being truthful.

Also, if you provide more details than needed, some people may offer to help you to resolve your issues in order to free your time for them – then you’re really in trouble! I see this happening all the time with one of my friends. He wants to please everyone, so anytime he tries to say “No”, he also apologizes and gives an extensive explanation for why he can’t commit. In most cases, the other people use his explanations to find a solution that frees his time for their task, so they end up getting their way anyway.

So, keep it simple and polite 🙂

Try these tips today if you need to, and see how much time you save for your most meaningful tasks and priorities. You’ll like it.


You might also enjoy these posts:

How To Make Internal Meetings More Effective

3 Simple Steps To Increase Your Productivity With Time Blocking


Photo credit: Katie Purnell, minimography.com

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