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Have you ever said “yes” to a request when you really meant to say “no?”
Recently, I realized that I had overcommitted myself. The result was a tired mama, a messy house, a needy toddler, a neglected husband and an ignored book draft.
In other words, the important things were suffering because the non-important was running my life. And it was all because of this little two-letter word I was afraid of: “no.”
Perhaps you can relate.
With the help of my husband and a few pointers from the book Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, I learned how to say “no” in a graceful way that didn’t ruin relationships and left me with time and energy to focus on what’s important.
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Here are some strategies I learned along they way that may help you as well:
1: Decide What’s Important
Until this pivotal point in my life, I’d evaluate requests based on whether they “sounded good” or if I felt an obligation to the person making the request. As a result, I ended up doing things I didn’t want to do long after the passion had sizzled and my friend had moved on.
Before you begin cutting out commitments, chart your priorities. What's most important to you? Where should you invest your time and energy?
Write down your priorities and then evaluate all present and future commitments based on how they help you fulfill your most important roles. If an event or commitment doesn’t contribute to your priorities, then let someone else do it.
2: Calculate the Cost
Every “yes” to something is a “no” to something else. Before agreeing to something, calculate the trade-off. In other words, what do you lose if you agree to this proposal?
If you take that unpaid gig, will you be unavailable for a better opportunity next week? If you watch that chick-flick, will you still have time to write today's quota for the book? If you go out on that date, will you wish you'd stayed home and read a book instead?
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Or to look at things differently, ask yourself this: “If I did not have this opportunity, how much would I be willing to sacrifice in order to obtain it?” Ask for some time to consider your answer before you give an automatic “yes.”
3: Separate the Decision from the Relationship
We often agree to do things we don’t really want to do to avoid hurting other people’s feelings. But saying "yes" just to please someone may result in resentment and bitterness, which will hurt your relationship in the end anyway.
Instead, separate the decision from the person. Often it feels like turning down a request means rejecting the person making that request, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can still value the friendship while explaining that you can’t make that commitment. Sure, they may be disappointed at first, but people respect and admire those with the courage and grace to say "no."
4: Practice Until You Get It Right
Though it takes some practice, you can learn to say "no" firmly and gracefully so that you can say “yes” to what's most important. Here are some methods and scripts to practice. What would you say in each situation?
Scenario A: Your BFF wants you to volunteer in the nursery with her but that’s the last place you want to be.
Method: Ask for time to consider
Script: “Wow, I’ve never really considered that. Let me take some time to think and pray about it, and I’ll get back to you.” And then, “Thanks so much for thinking of me, but I don’t think I would do well with crying babies when I still have my own at home.”
Why it works: Asking for time to think or check your calendar shows the person that you’re genuinely giving the situation some thought. It lets you evaluate the opportunity in terms of your priorities and commitments, and it gives you some space between the ask and the response.
Scenario B: Your friend wants you to coordinate the bake sale for the third year in a row, but you’re still kind of angry over last year because you ended up doing most of the work.
Method: Recommend someone else
Script:"I know I'm going to disappoint you, but I've decided not to volunteer this year. But Susie just told me she’s looking for a way to get more involved with her son’s class. Maybe you could check with her.”
Why it works: If you know of someone who would thrive on the challenge, suggest the person contact them instead. This way you’re giving the requestor a new lead and the letdown won’t feel as harsh.
Scenario C: An acquaintance wants you to do extensive work on their website--for free.
Method: Creatively avoid the word "no"
Script: “When I started my business, I promised myself that I won’t work for free unless it’s a family member or I’m fixing a mistake I made.”
Why it works: The key here is to explain the rationale behind your implicit “no,” so that the person understands why you won’t do what they ask. This is a great method if saying the word “no” makes you nervous; just make sure your “no” is clearly understood.
Scenario D: You’re invited to join friends for a day at a theme park, but you don’t have the money.
Method: Affirm the positive
Script: “That sounds like great fun, and I wish I could join you, but it’s just not in the budget right now. Make sure you post pictures!”
Why it works: Instead of dwelling on what you can’t do, focus your response on the good that’s evident in the situation. By redirecting their attention, the conversation will most likely keep going, and your “no” will fade in the background.
Scenario E: A coworker is in a chatty mood and plops in your office chair to talk, but you’re trying to finish your work and leave for the day.
Method: Look for middle ground
Script: “Now’s not a good time since I’m in the middle of something. How about we grab lunch together tomorrow?”
Why it works: Suggesting an alternative with better terms serves both your interests. They get what they want and you get to say “yes” in a way that’s agreeable to you.
The next time you’re tempted to say “yes” right away, take a few moments and consider how you can respond in order to protect what is most important to you. Your family and your sleep will thank you.
Have you ever said “yes” and regretted your decision? Why do you think it’s such a struggle to say “no”?
Asheritah Ciuciu is a writer, speaker, and video blogger who helps overwhelmed women find joy in Jesus. She married her high school sweetheart, Flaviu, and they have a blast raising their baby girl in the farmlands of Ohio. She blogs at OneThingAlone.com where she inspires women to sit at the feet of Jesus so they can dwell with Him deeply, love others recklessly, and live their lives fully. Come find a community of grace-filled women there.