#027: How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty [Podcast]

If you’re like me, you have a tough time saying, “No.” As a recovering people-pleaser, I want to be helpful to people. I just hate disappointing them.

NO Painted on the Floor - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/mattjeacock, Image #11710641

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/mattjeacock

In this episode, I share some practical strategies I’ve learned—and am learning—for saying, “No,” in away that honors the person making the request and keeps me free to focus on what matters most.

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If we are going to accomplish our goals, we must learn to say no to those requests that threaten to take us off task and consume our resources.

If we don’t get better at saying, “No,” here’s what we risk:

  • Other people’s priorities will take precedence over ours.
  • Mere acquaintances—people we barely know!—will crowd out time with family and close friends.
  • We will not have the time we need for rest and recovery.
  • We will end up frustrated and stressed.
  • We won’t be able to say, “Yes,” to the really important things.

I recently heard Andy Stanley talking about this topic on his leadership podcast. He said,

The harsh reality of leadership is that the more successful we are, the less accessible we become. As things grow and as more people become involved, a leader can’t be equally accessible to all people. So then we are faced with the dilemma of who gets my time and who doesn’t, when do they get it, and and how much of it do they get.”

Your time is a zero sum game. When you say yes to one thing, you are simultaneously saying no to something else. The more successful you get, the more difficult this becomes. You find yourself saying no to good things—worthy things—in order to say yes to your most important priorities.

Here are eight practical suggestions for saying no without feeling guilty:

  1. Acknowledge your resources are finite.
  2. Determine who needs access to you and who doesn’t.
  3. Take practical steps to limit your accessibility.
  4. Make a list of common requests.
  5. Adopt a strategy for responding to these requests.

    William Ury outlines four strategies in his book, The Power of a Positive No:

    • Accommodation: We say Yes when we want to say No. This happens when we value the relationship of the person making the request above the importance of our own interests.
    • Attack: We say no poorly. This is a result of valuing our own interests above the importance of the relationship. Sometimes we are fearful or resentful of the request and overreact to the person asking.
    • Avoidance: We say nothing at all. Because we are afraid of offending the other party, we say nothing, hoping the problem will go away. It rarely does.
    • Affirmation: We use a formula of “Yes-No-Yes.” This is contrast to the ordinary “No” which begins with a No and ends with a No. A positive No begins with a “Yes” and ends with a “Yes.”
  6. Use e-mail templates to say no with grace.
  7. Delegate to people you trust.
  8. Accept the fact that you will be misunderstood.

Listener Questions

  1. Kevin Quinley asked, “How do you say no without coming across as a prima donna or doing something that is career-limiting like saying no to the boss or a key client?”
  2. Michele Cushatt asked, “Do I need to provide a long explanation for why I am saying ‘no’?”
  3. Michele also asked, “How do you maintain your resolve when you are dealing with someone pushy?”

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Episode Resources

In this episode I mentioned several resources, including:

Show Transcript

You can download a complete, word-for-word transcript of this episode here, courtesy of Ginger Schell, a professional transcriptionist, who handles all my transcription needs.

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