I meet a lot of people who have a hard time saying no. It’s an issue that’s full of emotion. Trying to protect yourself and others at the same time is difficult and painful—it seems like someone always loses.
I’m a big fan of helping people and I truly believe that I get a lot when I give to others. But having the ability to say no when you need to is critical. In fact, saying no at the right time is one of the keys to getting what you want.
How many times have you worked late or neglected someone you wanted to spend time with—even yourself—because you said yes to someone?
Here is the problem with saying yes too often: It takes away your focus, which is the key to getting things done or changing your life.
You can get 60 minutes of interrupted work done in 20 minutes of uninterrupted work. Uninterrupted time in which you can concentrate on what you’re doing is gold in the world of productivity and getting what you want.
Think about how long it takes to return to a project once you’re interrupted. You have to reread what you were working on and try to get your mind back into the project. All too often, valuable thoughts are lost along with precious time.
In the bigger scheme of things, if you’re working toward a major life change, like going back to school, switching careers, or getting a promotion, then the more you say yes to others, the less you’re focusing on your future.
The big things you want in life only happen if you’re willing to put in the work. If you don’t say no to someone asking you to go out to eat, volunteer, help on a project, or whatever, then you’re robbing yourself of the opportunity to study, read, or take classes. It’s focus that gets you where you want to go.
Take a look at the most successful people in your organization. I can guarantee they know how to focus when they need to, and they know how to say no to people.
When I was doing my doctoral work, there was one professor who regularly and readily said no to requests for his time. Students would ask him to be on their dissertation committees. No. Students would ask him to advise them on projects. No.
This professor was very clear about what he needed to accomplish, and he didn’t allow requests to push him off track. It’s no coincidence that he was a highly productive researcher and writer who received prestigious awards in his field. He understood that the way forward was through a well-placed “no.”
I believe most people have a hard time saying no primarily because of fear.
It might be the fear of feeling guilty because they were raised to help everyone. They may conclude that they’re a “bad” person if they say no to a request.
It may be the fear of hurting another—or at least appearing not to be friendly. All too often, people don’t know how to handle conflict well so instead of facing it, they avoid it. It’s easier to say yes than to risk the discomforts of saying no.
It may be the fear of being seen as someone who’s not a team player at work. But ask yourself this: Do you find yourself staying late at the office or bringing work home with you? If so, see if there’s a connection between this and your inability to say no.
Having the guts to say no is all about knowing what’s important in your life. Once you’ve figured that out, knowing how to spend your time is simple. Is this request going to move you toward or away from what you want?
It’s simple and plain to see if you look for it: People who say yes all the time are people who are struggling to get what they want. It’s OK, and important, to put yourself first. You’re worth it.