Sometimes you have to say no; here’s how to soften the blow

Sometimes you have to say no; here’s how to soften the blow

Is there another word quite as charged as the double-lettered, single-syllabled powerhouse of rejection?

We dread having to say it almost as much as we hate being on the receiving end, if not more.

We’ll overbook our schedules, acquiesce to inconsiderate requests or make up outlandish lies just so we can spare ourselves the discomfort.

But the fact remains, learning to say no is an important skill to cultivate.

For starters, we all have the same 24 hours in a day and should each be more diligent about how we allocate our time. You shouldn’t allow other people to dictate your schedule, as that will only take you further and further away from pursuing your own goals and focusing on your priorities.

Secondly, taking on more work than you can handle will invariably lead to lackluster results, and probably culminate in exhaustion and burnout.

The most important thing to remember is that the people who truly care about us will understand that we can not always say yes, because we have our own responsibilities to take care of.

This should effectively shift the burden from trying to never say no, to learning how to say it without damaging our relationships.

The key to saying no and saying it well, is to deliver it with tact and consideration. That may sound obvious and simple enough when you’re a safe distance away but if you’re ever faced with a looming “no” and find any difficulty delivering it, here are a few guiding points to consider.

Explain why

‘“No” might be a complete sentence, but a few more words can make it a kind one.’ Marie Forleo

Even though technically you don’t owe most people any explanations, it makes the rejection a little easier to receive (and give) if you can honestly let someone know why. It might be due to time constraints, other personal factors, or even the nature of the request itself.

If you’re afraid that your reasons may seem trivial in comparison to their request, you can choose to keep your response simple, but firm. For instance, sleeping in on a Saturday might seem less important than driving your friend to the airport (even though you’ve had a hectic week and really do need some time to recharge) In this case, simply saying that you already have something planned will suffice. Try not to resort to lies however, as that will only lead to guilt.

Say what you can do instead

If there’s anything that you can comfortably do for the person, let them know. They will likely appreciate the help, even if it’s not what they originally asked for.

You may not be able to personally help plan your niece’s birthday party, but sharing your favorite baker or decorator’s number will definitely help ease the load on your sister.

You could also offer to do it at a later date and time, if that works better for you.

Don’t say yes or even maybe when what you really mean is no

If you really do need to think a request over before responding, then let them know and if possible, offer some idea of when you’ll be able to get back to them.

There’s no use in simply delaying the “no” however. Even though it might seem like the kinder thing to do, both for yourself and the other person, delaying your answer will simply prolong the anxiety you feel, and possibly get in the way of the requester finding a more viable solution.

As a rule of thumb, if your answer is “no” in the moment, then you probably have a good reason for it, and it will not change later. Besides, if you do change your mind, you can always reach out and see if they still need your help.

Practice on yourself

Not every impulse, opportunity or goal that comes your way is worth pursuing. You have to learn to say no to temptations and distractions.

A research study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, found that we are more likely to convince ourselves (and other people) if we use the words “I don’t…” instead of “I can’t…”

Here’s an explanation from Heidi Grant Halvorson, the Associate Director of the Motivation Science Center at the Columbia University Business School.

‘I don’t‘ is experienced as a choice, so it feels empowering. It’s an affirmation of your determination and willpower. ‘I can’t’ isn’t a choice. It’s a restriction, it’s being imposed upon you. So thinking ‘I can’t’ undermines your sense of power and personal agency.”

It might take a little preparation and a lot of practice but once you get the hang of it, your life will get comparably easier and hopefully, a lot less busy too!


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