Saying no without feeling like a jerk

saying no

Anupam’s boss constantly keeps dumping last-minute tasks on him. Because of this, Anupam ends up working late on a lot of days. He feels angry, frustrated and tired.  His boss seems to like him a lot and keeps telling him he is a great employee. Anupam feels that if he turns down the extra work he may offend his boss. So he continues to slog even at the cost of his health and personal life.

Gita is part of a team which is very close-knit. People like to hang out together on coffee breaks and share food during lunch. While Gita loves their company there are times she feels that her work suffers because of the time she spends on breaks with others. This does not seem to affect others as they are more experienced on the job. But Gita continues to go for these breaks even when she doesn’t need a break because she does not want to say no to them.

If you are one of those who struggles to say no to people chances are Gita and Anupam’s situations sound familiar.

You should also know that you are in no way alone. A lot of people struggle to say no to things that they don’t want to do. This causes them a lot of inconveniences. On the other hand when they do manage to say no they end up feeling guilty. It is truly a double-edged sword.

A good question to ask yourself is, ” What are some of the things I struggle to say no to?”

Understand the reason you hesitate in saying no

  • Ego gets in the way: When someone asks for help it can become a matter of pride and personal validation to be able to help out. The subconscious thought could be, ” If I don’t help this person, he/she may think I don’t have the ability to do so.”
  • Need to be seen as nice and helpful: This is perhaps the most common reason why people don’t say no. Humans have an intrinsic need to be connected and liked by others. Added to that is the childhood programming where we are constantly told to be helpful and share with others.
  • Avoid guilt: Saying no can make you feel guilty. This is also linked to the belief often inculcated in childhood that nice people help others. Ergo, not helping or saying yes makes you feel guilty.
  • Respect for the other person: If you respect the person asking for a help it can become difficult to say no because you may not want the other person to feel disrespected.

What happens when you say yes when you want to say no:

Saying yes when you want to say no can be harmful to you for 2 reasons.

  • Makes you lose power and confidence: When you say yes to something we don’t really want to do, at a deeper level you feel helpless and “not in control”. This can lower your feeling of power, confidence and how you see yourself.
  • Takes you away from what you really want to do: Time is a limited resource and spending too much time doing things that are not important to you will take away the time you could invest in doing the things that matter to you.

It is only by saying “no” that you can concentrate on the things that are really important. -Steve Jobs

What to do instead?

While there is no perfect way to say no the below pointers do help.

  1. Always be clear on your priorities: Take time to understand the things that you want to spend time on and the time you have to spare. Say yes only of the work fits into the time you can spare. Do not commit to work by compromising your priorities. Knowing that you are saying no to things to be able to do important stuff makes it easier to say no without feeling guilty. And yes, wanting to take rest can be an important reason too.
  2. Don’t make it about you or the other person: Saying yes does not always make you a better person. Similarly saying no does not make you bad. Focus on the feasibility and practicality of doing the task. It is better to say no and let someone else do the task rather than say yes and do a half-hearted and shoddy job.
  3. Communicate why you are saying no: “Sorry I can’t come to the party because I am exhausted and really want to catch up on sleep” or “I can’t stay back and help you with this assignment because I have worked the whole day and would really like to go back home now” are perfectly good ways to refuse requests. Most people will understand because most of us have been there.
  4. Offer alternatives: “Perhaps you could ask Mary to help you since she has an idea of how this works” or “Maybe you could ask the client for a little more time and I can help you with this tomorrow morning. ” The person asking for something needs the task completed and may not necessarily want it done by you.
  5. Say yes when you want to: If you would really like to help someone go ahead and do it as long as it is not out of guilt. Your inner compass is a perfect guide to help you make the decision. Know that you can only do so much and every request does not have to be met.

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, unapologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. – Steven Covey



One Comment

  1. That’s a very thoughtful article Rachel! Especially the section on “What happens when you say yes when you want to say no” is quite impactful!

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