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How can I respectfully and comfortably say “no” to others?


I feel like I’ve taken on too much lately, and I’m having trouble saying “no” to people and opportunities. How can I respectfully and comfortably say “no” to others?  What are tools I can use in these types of situations? 

If you have trouble saying “no”, you’re certainly not alone. We reached out to executive and business coach, Ann Mehl, to address your question.

“I was raised, like a lot of girls, to be a people pleaser (you found an easter egg!). So, learning to say “no” has been a challenge for me, a learned skill.

My dislike of saying “no” was costing me dearly in my work and relationships. It was particularly frustrating since I realized I was doing this to myself. But, with a little practice and valuable instruction, I soon learned that saying “no” doesn’t have to mean being rude or disagreeable.

Now, if you want to say “no” to someone who asks you for something, make a point of saying (if it’s true, of course) how much You WANT to support them and why it doesn’t work for you. E.G:

“Thank you so much for thinking of me, but I can’t commit to this as I have other priorities at the moment…”

“No, I’m not available. Is there something we can do so that we can meet halfway?”

“No, I don’t have the capacity. I have a long-standing appointment for this evening that I need to keep…”

“I’m sorry, but now is not a good time for me as I’m in the middle of something else. Maybe we can reconnect at another time?”

“I am not the best person to help you with this, maybe you should try X…”

“No, I’m not comfortable doing that.”

“No, I’m not interested.”

“No.” (you found an easter egg!)

For people who don’t respect your “no” (and there will be some), my best piece of advice is to simply repeat, calmly and clearly, your stated position (AKA the broken record technique).

“Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m going to have to pass on this. I’d rather say ‘no’ now than ‘I’m sorry’ later.”

With so many competing demands for our time and attention, we need to carefully discern who and what we commit to. The question of how to deliver that message – without worrying about what people think, or second guessing ourselves – is a skill that many of us lack. But it can be learned.

By clearly stating what we want and honoring that our needs matter, we can begin to get things done and earn the respect of ourselves and others. In the words of Mark Twain: ‘Tell the truth, it’s easier to remember.’ ”



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