Raise your hand if you’ve ever said yes to something you really didn’t want to do out of obligation or guilt.
Yeah, us too.
It can be difficult to say no to opportunities or invitations when you’re afraid of disappointing someone or feel that your reasons for saying no aren’t valid. On the other hand, saying “Yes” to too many opportunities that don’t align with your goals and values can lead to poor performance, burnout and resentment. Not good.
How can you set healthy boundaries and communicate your needs without feeling guilty?
We’ve rounded up our top tips for getting comfortable saying no:
Establish your priorities
When you have a clear sense of what’s important to you, it becomes easier to say “no” to things that distract from or don’t align with your priorities. For example, we worked with a woman leader at a tech start-up who decided that expanding her network was critical to getting promoted, so when a colleague invited her to a Women in Tech get-together, she made the time, despite her crammed schedule. But when a neighborhood mom tried to persuade her to help run the school auction, she was able to politely decline because of the time it would take away from more important goals.
Be firm but polite
Many of us fear that by saying “No,” we’ll come off as rude, but actually, people respect us more when we set limits. Try cushioning your rejection by explaining your intent: “I’d love to help out but I need to stay focused on my key initiatives right now.” A surprise benefit is that it gives others permission to set their own limits when we stick to ours.
Offer an alternative
For example, if someone reaches out to you with a consulting opportunity but you don’t have the bandwidth or interest, offer to put the inquirer in touch with others who may be a better fit for the job.
Give yourself time to respond.
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell someone no in the moment. Buy yourself some time by asking the person to let you check your calendar and circle back with them. Then reach out for support from a friend or colleague if you need a reminder of how lousy you feel when you’re overbooked.
Consider a modified ‘no’
In some cases, like when your boss asks you to take on a project, you may not be able to say no. Try adding conditions to your agreement that make it more manageable for you. For example, “Sure, I’d be happy to take that on but I’m going to need 2 weeks instead of one” or “It’d be my pleasure. As a reminder, I’m also working on projects X, Y, Z. How should I prioritize?”
When we decide not to do something, it means we can yes to something else. You have the unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious limited time. Don’t give away your power in order to avoid the temporary discomfort of saying no!