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How to Say “No” to New Commitments

Have you ever taken something on because you felt like you should – only to regret it?

Most of us have way too many commitments, and you’re probably no exception. Whether it’s chairing a weekly meeting, making cakes for the kids’ bake sale at school, helping a friend clear their garage, designing a website (gratis) for your sister … it all adds up.

If you find it really tough to say “no” when you’re asked to take on something new, then I totally sympathize. I find it hard too – but I’ve learnt a few ways to make saying “no” a bit easier (even when someone persistent it asking!)

Step #1: Be Totally Clear

Make sure you actually say “no” and that the person hears it.

Silence can be interpreted as consent, whether that’s verbal silence or virtual silence in response to an email.

You don’t have to be rude, of course – but don’t get so caught up in being polite that your “no” gets buried under a whole bunch of qualifiers.

Step #2: Explain That You Need to Focus

Sometimes, it’s easier to get people off your back if you explain why you’re saying no. Try emphasizing your need to focus on what’s already on your plate:

  • I’ve got too much on right now
  • I need to focus on my job (family/kids/other commitments) at the moment
  • I can’t do it justice – I have too many other commitments

You could even say that it’s nothing personal, but you’ve promised yourself to say “no” to all new commitments for the next month.

It’s hard to keep all your promises if you can’t say no – remember that by turning down this request, you’re ensuring that you can keep up with everything else that’s going on in your life.

Step #3: Don’t Back Down

Some people will listen to you the first time. Others will think that your “no” just means they need to talk you into it.

Once you’ve said no, don’t back down. If you constantly turn your “no” into a “maybe” then a “yes”, people will think that you don’t really mean it – they’ll pile on the pressure next time you turn them down.

If necessary, end the conversation: say, clearly, that you don’t want to talk about it any further. If the other person persists, walk away.

Step #4: Ask for Time if Necessary

If someone’s really pressuring you, or if you feel uncomfortable giving a straight “no” to their face, then ask for some time to think about it. Say that you need to consider their request in light of your other priorities.

That way, they’ll feel that you’ve given it proper thought – and you’ll be able to send a clear refusal by email or text.

 

If none of those steps work, or if you’re having a really hard time saying “no” to someone who needs help, then see if there’s some other way to assist. You might suggest a resource they could use, or another person who can help. You could even agree to a small, limited-time-only commitment:

I’m sorry, Sue, I just don’t have time to help you create a website. I’ve got a great book you can borrow, though – it’ll teach you all the basics.

No, I can’t commit to being secretary of the club. How about John instead? Have you asked him?

I’m happy to organize the cake sale just this once, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it on a regular basis.

 

If you struggle to say “no”, what tips have worked for you in the past? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments…

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Photo credit: The Frisky