Such a tiny word, such a problematic one for so many of us to say.
How many times have you found yourself on the receiving end of a request that you badly want to say no too but somehow the words that came out of your mouth were not “no”? Quite the opposite in fact, before you knew what was happening you seemed to be agreeing to something you never wanted to do in the first place all because you can’t say no?
Why we don’t just say “NO!”
That would be easiest, surely? No room for misinterpretation. We all know that no means no.
Here’s the problem though "no" is a loaded word, it provokes a reaction in us and in others, not always a good one. We don’t like to say no and we don’t like to hear it. Why is that?
Do you remember school discos and dances? Do you remember wanting to dance with someone but being afraid to ask in case they said “no”? Do you remember ever wanting something so much, screwing up your courage to ask for it and being told “no”? How did you feel? Crushed, frustrated, angry? Almost certainly it didn’t feel good.
The more a person hears “no”, the harder it is to keep asking other people for things in the future. That’s how we wind up “doing it all”, never asking for help, pretending that we don’t need anyone else and making ourselves utterly miserable in the process.
Even if you are someone who finds it easy to say “no” to the things you don’t want to do, consider what it may have taken for someone to ask you for something. The person asking may have used up all their courage to approach you for help - not always, but sometimes. Have a little grace, respect the vulnerability that comes with asking others for help and when you have to, say no with kindness.
Why kindness and grace are the keys to saying no
Because kindness and grace cost nothing. Zero, zip, nada. The vast majority of people haven’t asked you for something because they want to take advantage of your inability to say no. They’ve asked you because they respect you and because they value what you would bring as a solution to their problem. They don’t know that you are operating at your maximum capacity, they don’t know that three other people have already asked you for something today. Don’t make your problems their problems. Someday you will have to ask somebody for something. Consider how you would like them to respond to you if they are unable to say yes to your request.
What you can say instead of no
Ok, I’m going to spill my secrets now, because as a recovering people pleaser I say no a lot more now than I ever did before in my entire life (and according to my mother I was a strong willed child who had zero issues with saying the word no).
No, I can’t do this.
No, I won’t do that.
Post-burnout, I know my own boundaries and boy oh boy, do I know how to respect them.
I have become a master of the graceful “no”. So much so, that other people often ask me to decline things on their behalf “because you make it sound so much better!”
But that means that if you receive (or have received) one of the following emails from me then you will now know that I was formulaically declining you, hopefully gracefully.
Putting the Graceful No into practice
Saying no to a request to “pick your brains”
Thank you so much for thinking of me. I am so flattered that you would like my input on your project/business/problem.
Right now, my workload doesn’t allow for many coffee dates and those I do have are currently dedicated to friends and family who I just don’t see enough of due to work OR I am prioritising my non-work time just for me so a coffee date won’t be possible.
If you would like my professional input on your project/business/problem then I am happy to schedule some time for you during my working hours. My current consulting fees are on my website [insert link] and you can book a slot here [insert link to your calendar booking system].
Alternatively, you may find these resources useful [insert links to relevant blog posts you have written or articles you would recommend which you think could help].
I would love to refer you to [insert name of trusted person] who may be able to help you further.
I look forward to seeing how your project/business/problem evolves into the next phase.
Saying no to a request that makes you feel uncomfortable
Thank you so much for contacting me for this. I don’t believe that I am the right person to provide [insert topic of request here], which means that I am going to say no. But I am so flattered you thought of me.
I recommend contacting/reading/purchasing [insert subject here] to help you move forward with this.
Thank you again for thinking of me and I wish you all the luck in the world with [insert topic of request here].
Saying no to a friend asking you for business help, without feeling any guilt
I love hearing how you are getting on with [insert topic of request here], thank you so much for taking the time to update me, especially as I know how busy you are right now. I am going to have to say no to [insert topic of request here] on this occasion because I don’t have any capacity for free work at the moment / I’m not the right person to help you with this / I love our friendship too much to mix it up with business.
I am so proud to see you pushing the limits of [insert topic of request here] and striving even harder to do something that means so much to you. I feel like we haven’t seen each other properly for ages. Let’s get together soon so that we can not talk about work together.
Saying no to requests for you to work for free
NOTE: First, decide whether you should work for free using this flowchart. Then...
Thank you so much for getting in touch. It is so flattering that you would want me to be part of your business/plan/project/team. Unfortunately, I need to say no to your request.
At the beginning of each year, I calculate / I have to be careful how many hours I can dedicate to free and voluntary work requests. I have already filled the slots I have available for this year / I don’t have any time available at this point. I would be happy to discuss taking this on as a paid project for you but I can’t offer the work for free.
If budget is the issue, could I suggest maybe [posting your request in this Facebook group / reading this article / diy-ing it with this free online tool]?
Let me know if there is another way I can support what you are doing.
Again, I am so grateful that you considered me for this and I hope there is a way we can work together in the future.
Saying no to someone who won’t take no for an answer.
I love your persistence! The answer is still no. I’m simply not able to fit your request into my schedule right now. Believe me, I am not the only way that you will make this project work / achieve your goal but my role is going to be the one who is cheering you on from the sidelines.
I hope the resources/references in our previous email exchange were helpful.
Now go smash those goals, you’ve got this!
Over to you
How do you say no? Is it easy or something you find hard to do? And if you're struggling with how to say no to something I haven't covered, let me know and if I can, I'll resolve it for you with a template response.