How To Say “No!”

Summary: Perhaps nothing will save you more time than avoiding projects you don't want to do. Let's learn how to say "no."

how-to-say-no

No, no, no...

I say yes to everything.

Someone needs help moving, I'm there. There's a fly in my soup, well that's extra protein. I certainly wouldn't bother someone to go to the trouble of getting me new soup. And now that I have two very young boys, I've got a lot more things that require me to say "Yes."

Today I write about a skill that I really want to work on. My hope is that by doing research and putting my thoughts in writing, I will have a start. At a minimum it gives me something to refer back to as I try to make it a habit.

And if all else fails, I'm going to ask my two-year old how he does it. "No" seems to be his favorite word.

Why You Need to Say No

James Altucher relates a story about "how the power of no saved his life" on his Facebook page:

I started saying "No" to people who weren't right for me. I started saying "No" to everything I didn't want to do.

I started saying "No" to mindless meetings, mindless events, mindless people who were bad for me, mindless food or alcohol, mindless anger and regret. Mindless TV and news.

I started saying "No" to colonoscopies and other things related to painful medical experiments. I listed all the things I could say "No" to and I still do.

...

I had been saying YES to the wrong things for 20 years.

The whole story takes many twists and turns and in my opinion goes far off topic, but here it is if you want to waste spend your time that way. Instead, I'll give you the powerful conclusion:

"When you start just saying 'No' to the bad things, the 'Yes' compounds every day. It compounds automatically, the way interest does in a non-US bank."

How To Say "No!"

As I said in the outset, I'm still learning this, but here are some things that I've found interesting.

Say No With a Form Letter

Writer Tim Walker has a brilliantly-worded letter saying no. Here's a sampling of a couple of my favorite quotes in the quick read:

"See, I’m a family man with a beautiful wife, wonderful children, a fun but demanding job, a lifelong goal of writing books, and a firm commitment to achieving tip-top physical condition. Something has to give - many somethings, actually - and unfortunately your project is one of them.
...
But please believe me, it’s not meant to be rude. It’s only done because this life is finite, and when it’s over I’ll be dead a long, long time... Unfortunately, your thing - awesome though it promises to be or already is - just isn’t my thing. And experience tells me that, if I don’t focus on my thing, I’ll go crazy."

I feel like I should steal that first paragraph word-for-word. When you read the whole letter one thing becomes obvious... he lays the compliments so thick that it doesn't seem like he's saying no at all.

Why We Can't Say No

There is a great article on Zen Habits about saying no. It cites 6 reasons for why it is hard to say no. I'm going to generalize them into 3 reasons:

  1. Yes People are Awesome - I want to help you and I want everyone to know how awesome I am for helping you. Plus, I avoid looking rude.
  2. I Don't Want to Hurt You - I don't want to reject you. I might actually like you and rejection hurts.
  3. I Want to Keep my Foot in the Door - If I say no to this, perhaps I miss out an opportunity. Perhaps you don't ask me the next time and it is something that I really want to help with.

The article also has 7 suggestions on How to Say No. I'll boil them down to these 3 responses:

  1. Just Say No - Simple and easy. You may soften the blow by playing the busy card.
  2. Deflect it to a Different Time - It might be easier to put it off and hope that it gets forgotten. Chances are the person asking you is busy as well (we all are, right?). You can either suggest a definitive time in the future or just leave it open by suggesting that you need to think about it.
  3. Pass the Buck to Someone Else - Often, I'm really not the best fit, so if I can offer better person, I might be doing more of a service in suggestion them.

Overall, I can't say I'm excited by these options, which may be why I find it so hard to say no. I feel like I might be throwing someone under the bus in passing the buck to them.

Can you help me learn to say no? I'd love to read your suggestions in the comments.

Further Reading:

You may have noticed that I referenced James Altucher a bit in this article. That's because he literally wrote the book on The Power of No - The subtitle of the book says it all: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness. That's a message I can get behind. You know what else I can get behind? The 264 reviewers who gave it a rating of 4.4.

This post involves:

Mind, Productivity

... and focuses on:

 

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