"The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say 'no' to almost everything." -Warren Buffett
In my last blog I asked, "What are you saying yes to?"
(Missed it? You can read it here.)
I got a surprising number of responses. Turns out I'm not the only one who has a hard time drawing a line in the sand.
None of us are alone in this. "In fact, not being able to say no is one of the biggest downfalls that successful entrepreneurs claim as their own key mistake." (Read more in A Scientific Guide to Saying No.)
According to research, many of us say yes to invitations, favors, and requests in order to avoid feeling uncomfortable when we say no. (Read more here.)
Been there, done that.
This is especially true when people have to give their answer face to face, rather than by email.
"And even when people do say "no", they become more likely to say "yes" to subsequent requests. They feel so guilty about saying 'no', they feel they need to salvage the relationship," says Vanessa Bohns, Assistant Professor of Management Sciences at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada." (Read more from Elizabeth Bernstein on Ways to Say 'No' More Effectively here.)
So even when we stand firm and say no, we're still caving in and saying yes.
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of times a resounding yes is the way to go. In fact, saying yes can create opportunities and make you happier (read more here.). I'm not talking about the times we might do ourselves a favor by saying yes to experience. I'm talking about the times we say yes out of a sense of obligation, guilt, or a need for approval.
What to do?
Plan ahead. You know you're going to be flooded with requests, favors and invitations (my my, somebody's popular!). You can either avoid all human interaction or you can prepare a default answer like, "Let me check my schedule and get back to you", instead of automatically saying yes.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Then, take a moment, pause and reflect.
Is saying yes forcing you to say no to another area in your life that you would rather focus on? Does saying yes make you feel resentful? Are you saying yes in hopes of being liked, to avoid criticism or feelings of guilt? Are you saying yes out of fear that a better opportunity won't come along? Do you hear the word should in your rationale?
If you said YES to any of the questions above, it might be time to say NO to the request at hand.
I'm a huge fan of Derek Sivers's idea, "When I decide to commit to something, if I feel anything less than, 'Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!' then my answer is no." (Read more here.)
What's the best way to go about doing this without sounding like a jerk or, more importantly, feeling like one?
First, you need to give yourself permission. You are allowed to say no.
In the words of Destiny's Child, "I wanna hear you say No, No, No."
Next, don't deliberate and keep the other person waiting. As tempting as it is to create a white lie, stick to the truth. Keep it simple and avoid different forms of maybes. The rest can get muddled, confusing, and create more internal battles. And, who needs those?
But, simply saying no may not be the most effective approach.
Negotiation specialist William Urly suggests sandwiching your no between two yes phrases or comments. (Read more about How to Say 'No' and Make it Stick here.)
For example, I'm so flattered you asked me to collaborate on your project (first yes phrase). Unfortunately, my schedule won't allow me to do your project justice (no). I'd love to be kept up to date on your progress (second yes phrase).
Just be wary of throwing in an actual yes at the end when you really mean no.
Another technique takes a friendly approach to take the sting out of saying no. “It’s called a relational account, and it involves referencing your commitment to other people when declining the focal person." (Read more from Adam Grant on 8 Ways to Say No Without Hurting Your Image here.)
In other words, offering up your prior commitments to other people takes the edge off of saying no.
For example, when declining a work offer you might say, "My current clients are my main priority and focus. I don't have the bandwidth to extend my focus to take on additional work."
If you want to say more than just no, communications expert Preston Ni says in a post for Psychology Today that using “I” or “It” statements can be helpful.
Try this Madlib :"It doesn't work for me because (reason) " or "I prefer to (other action or priority)".
Still feeling stuck and tempted to throw in the towel and say yes when you really just want to say H-E-double-hockey-stick NO? Try offering up an alternative solution, resource, or connection with your no. This is a good-karma no you can feel good about.
Setting boundaries and saying no can feel uncomfortable or downright icky for some of us at first, but with a little time and practice you'll be throwing nos around in no time!