Learning To Say “No”: A Step-By-Step Guide

“Take the burden on yourself so you don’t fall over as you walk,” says a popular wisdom. Translated into everyday terms: you are unlikely to be productive if you take on too many responsibilities. At the very least, the result will not be good and probably not in time. But you’re used to putting your shoulder to the wheel without a backlash and tired, hoping that your superiors will appreciate your zeal, rewarding you with a pay rise and a career boost, and everyone else will be genuinely grateful or at least admiring.

In fact, the bosses have no time to notice your hard work, especially if you pick up everything that comes your way without too much ado – the work gets done, and good. Colleagues are usually sceptical of other people’s workaholism or are happy to relieve themselves by handing over some of their tasks to you. Speaking of life outside the office, helping friends and relatives is a sacred thing, but they can be trivial about your workload and demand more each time, believing that you really do not make it difficult. That’s how you respond to them, adding the usual, “Yes, of course!”

In the meantime, tasks and requests are pouring in from the horn of plenty – by phone, e-mail, messenger or in person. And you have probably already realised that in order to reduce the rate of stress, it is time to learn to say ‘no’, even though the thoughts that haunt your mind are: “What if it spoils the relationship?”, “What if it disappoints the boss?”. NO. None of that will happen. If you feel yourself getting bogged down in overcommitment – master the art of rejection immediately.

Below – a selection of basic steps in the art of saying “no”: seven rules and three tactics for neglected cases.

1. Appreciate your time

Know your workload and skills – it’s easier to know how much your time is really worth, at work and elsewhere. When someone wants to overwhelm you with a new task, try it on mentally in your daily schedule and if it takes more than two minutes to reflect, say ‘no’. You’re already full – that’s how you explain the situation.

2. Prioritise.

Even if you happen to have some free time – on rare weekends or weekday evenings – that’s no reason to give it to anyone who doesn’t want to cope without help. Are you really willing to trade a long-awaited vacation with your loved one or family for what’s being asked of you?

3. Practice

Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to practice saying no. Sometimes repeating that magic word is the only way to turn away overly persistent people. Stand your ground, eventually they’ll realise you’re not kidding.

4. Don’t apologise

It’s a common mistake to start a rejection by saying ‘I’m sorry, but…’ because you’re hoping it sounds polite. Maybe, but it’s not worth the trouble to crush that apologetic tone – you won’t notice how quickly you’ll be persuaded to agree. You have to be firm and emphatic in defending your time, there’s nothing to apologise for.

5. Stop being nice.

It’s dangerous to be polite, and being nice to everyone runs the risk of lowering your self-esteem – to the point of nullifying your personal interests. The easier it is for people to grab your time (“Ah, she’s so nice, always helpful!”), the more willing they will be to do it. But if they realise that you’ve set up a tough barrier against leaking excessive kindness, they’ll switch to easier targets.

How to learn to say “no”: step-by-step instructions (photo 12)

6. Say no to the boss

Not true, it doesn’t mean that you’re completely out of line in asserting your micro-freedom. Firstly, it wasn’t in your contract. Secondly, by imposing too many obligations on you, management is risking the quality of your work. If they want to add tasks, let them determine when you will solve the ones you already have. At the same time and for the same salary, no thanks.

7. Take care of the backlash

Sometimes preventing an impending task is easier than giving it up. If you know you’re going to be approached with a request, it makes sense to take the initiative and announce (at a flyer or over lunch), “Guys, just so you know – this week I’m fully booked, I can’t spare an hour.”