With all the talk about self-care, the need to say “No” has not been discussed much. Yet knowing when and how to say “No” may be the one of the most important skills for keeping yourself mentally and physically heathy. You cannot keep giving and doing and then adding to it. Even more important is being able to make that “No” stick, without caving in and saying, “Ok, I will do it.”

The first secret it to know when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’. This starts by going back to your Mission to get a perspective on what the additional responsibility will entail. Will taking it on advance your Mission or take you away from it? If the task/project/offer doesn’t move you toward your goals, then the answer should be ‘no.’ There will be times when the person asking is someone you can’t say no, which is when it’s time for the second secret.

Sometimes you have to find a way to negotiate. This allows you to set boundaries and gives you some control. The Eblin Group offers Ten Things to Say Beyond Yes organized into three categories of responses: Yes, but…, Learn more, and No, but….

Yes, but…

  • With these conditions – You don’t have to use the word “conditions,” just itemize them. This lets the other person know your boundaries but show you are still prepared to take on the task. It also sends a message that your other work has importance as well. “I can do this if, I can get help with…”
  • Not now – When you say this, you control the timeline. Suggest a date when you will attend to it then follow up with confirmation. This shows your willingness to participate and be a team member while keeping your priorities.
  • Not me – Use this when you know someone who is better suited to the task. You are possibly putting them in the same position you currently are (depending on their priorities and workload), so be sure they’re a good substitution for you.

Learn more

  • Tell me more–You might even open with this. You can’t make a decision unless you know what’s involved and why it’s important. This also gives you time to think about your choice and no rush a response. Also recognize that jobs always involve more than they seem They are like icebergs.
  • Why now instead of later? – This gives you the information as to whether you can use the second “Yes, but” response. It also tells you how critical is to get the job done.
  • What about some alternatives that don’t require as much?–Get the other party to also think about the best way to manage the task. Find out if there are other options available to make the job happen.
  • What else would work or help instead? –  This gets both of you thinking out of the box. Maybe there’s a way to bring in more people or take a fresh approach. It also stops the “do what’s always been done” cycle.

No, but…

  • Here’s what I can do – On the one hand, you know the task is taking you away from your Mission. On the other hand, you still want to be cooperative. After you have Learned More, you can define how much you are willing to give. (If you are saying this to an administrator, instead of starting with, “No, but…” try ‘How about if I….”)
  • What if we tried this instead – Offer a solution that works for both of you. I once had a principal ask me to cover a gym class because there was no substitute available. I suggested the class meet in the library and research what was available on sports, exercise, etc. I had to work fast to make it a quick project with a purpose, but the principal and the kids liked it.
  • I wish you the best–If you must say no, be courteous and clear, “I am sorry I can’t help you with this. Maybe some other time.” We always want to leave a situation open to relationship building and future collaborations. Sometimes ‘no’ is only ‘no, for now.’

At some point – and probably when you least want to say ‘yes’ – you will be asked to do something more. Be prepared. Review your Mission so it’s firm in your mind and be ready to respond with something other than a ‘yes’ that will deplete you. You do have choices, and ‘no’ can be one of them.

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