How to Say “NO” Graciously

We are busy. Each of us has more on our plate than ever before, more than our counterparts in other lands. We awaken earlier, retire later, work longer, take fewer vacations and sleep less than our parents did just a generation ago. We are more stressed, facing decisions on many fronts each and every day, all while worrying about the future, our kids and paying our bills. Prescription drugs for anxiety, sleep assistance and depression are listed in the majority of those prescribed. All the while, we keep adding to the mix by saying yes when asked to do more. Will it ever end?

What do you say to someone when asked to do something or take responsibility for a new work project, or sit on another school or church committee or become a scout leader or bake cookies for the local fund-raiser or anything that will require more time than you realistically have available? You generally say yes, don’t you? You may be feeling overwhelmed and stressed-out, but you still tend to say yes, adding even more to that already overflowing schedule. Why?

Often, we are asked to provide our professional expertise for free, sacrificing those hours that may have been otherwise billable, personally absorbing that opportunity cost. You say to yourself that you can fit it in. There is nothing wrong with contributing your time and talents to worthwhile endeavors, in fact it is Scriptural. The question is “What is your motivation?” Why are you doing what you are doing? That answer often determines whether the proposed activity will become comforting or crushing. The truth is that you often undertake that new activity or responsibility at the expense of something else in your life, likely your sleep, personal relationships and stress levels.

Why are we prone to say yes so quickly and easily? Generally we want to please others, fearful of disappointing them. We are eager to please, feeling that saying yes will further encourage that relationship. We all want to be liked and feel accepted. We tend to say yes because we are afraid to say “no,” afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings. We are often asked for our contribution during an emotional time, possibly after a presentation of some kind. We feel guilty if we say no. Others may prey on that guilt to gently coerce us. Others are likely to be well aware of the guilt-trip complex because they are probably experiencing it themselves and now are anxious to share it with you. If guilt is your inspiration, surely increased stress and feelings of growing anxiety will follow.

So how do you learn to say no when asked, especially if even the remote possibility of that response makes you feel uncomfortable or inadequate? How do you get past your emotions? The answer calls for a considerable stretch of your comfort zone. Nothing will ever change in your life in the absence of new decisions and that stretch of faith. Be gutsy. Be proactive. Find confidence in yourself.

Try this simple technique: Respond to the person asking by saying “I possibly can help. I need to first review my calendar and existing commitments then I will call you back tomorrow.” Wow! Can it really be that simple? You bet! This brief and simple statement removes the immediate emotion from your decision allowing you to be rational in the pending examination of your schedule. You may still respond by saying “yes,” however you will not feel overwhelmed or further stressed by your decision. You can now fit your new responsibility into your planning schedule and feel good about it. If you decide to say no, your decision will be based upon facts, not your emotions. You will feel at peace with your decision and eliminate any guilt from impairing you.

Don’t panic when asked to assume additional responsibility. Employ this simple technique as a reality check. I believe that you will find it a wonderful means of maintaining your sanity.