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.
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,”
- Other peoples’ 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.
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).