5 Reasons Why You Need to Get Better at Saying “No”

I have a hard time saying “no.” Perhaps you do, too. I think it is more common than we think, especially for those who are empathetic or nurturing. We just hate the thought of hurting someone else’s feelings.

Red marker writing the word

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/WendellandCarolyn

I didn’t really notice this problem in myself, because for most of my career I have had an assistant who said “no” for me. If someone had a request, they had to get through her first.

This gave me the buffer I needed to consider the request more carefully. I then let her say “no” on my behalf. The fact that I didn’t have to deliver the bad news myself kept me focused and productive.

Now that I have left the corporate world, everything has changed. I don’t currently have an assistant (a problem I am working to remedy). That means the requests are all coming straight to me.

For example, a few weeks ago, an acquaintance—someone I met briefly at a conference—sent me an email. These aren’t the exact words, but this is typically of the kinds of requests I now get:

I read your blog daily and follow you on Twitter. We met briefly after your speech in Dallas. I am going to be in Nashville next week and would really like to meet with you.

I am in the middle of a personal crisis and could use your counsel. I know you are busy, but this is really important. It would mean the world if you could make time for me. Could I buy you breakfast, lunch—or just coffee—to pick your brain?”

I ended up saying “yes”—and was kicking myself almost immediately. The lunch meeting ended up being a total waste of time. He didn’t come prepared. In fact, when it was all said and done, I had no idea what he really wanted.

The problem is that I am now getting several of these requests a day. It could be a full-time job if I let it.

But that’s not going to happen, thanks to the encouragement of my family and close friends. There is too much at stake. They are holding me accountable.

I have now resolved to say “no” to everything unless there is a really, really compelling reason to say “yes.” In other words, I have switched my default response from “yes” to “no.”

Sure enough, I have getting plenty of opportunities to practice!

As I was thinking about this today, I was reminded again of why it is so important—not only for me, but probably for you as well. I wrote down five reasons.

If we don’t get better at saying “no,”

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

This last one was the clincher for me. Every time I say “no” to something that is not important, I am saying “yes” to something that is.

Note: if you think this is somehow unspiritual, think how many times Jesus said “no” either explicitly or implicitly, so that He could stay focused on His Father’s business (see John 11:5-6 for one example).

Question: How are you doing at saying “no”? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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