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Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston

December 22, 2014

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How to Say No!

Picture this: You’re already swamped with training for a half marathon, planning a bridal shower for your best friend, and keeping up with your (constantly growing) to-do list at work. Then a friend from college calls to see if you can help her move into her new apartment since her moving company bailed on her and she’s desperate for help. Or a coworker asks if you’ll take her place at a trade show that weekend so she and the hubby can flee to the Cape while it’s still warm.

You want to help all of them, but you’re already feeling frazzled. What’s a girl to do? Read these tips on how to bow out gracefully. Or, as Nancy Reagan would say, “Just say no.”

Prioritize. The key to keeping focused is having a clear set of priorities. If you’re determined to compete in a half marathon, then maybe you won’t have as much time to plan your alumni association picnic or play on your company softball team. If you have your heart set on scoring a promotion, you might decide that the softball team is a good opportunity to schmooze, which might take precedence over dinner with the roomies. Keep your personal priorities in mind as friends or coworkers ask for help. If performing a favor will add to your stress or impede your progress, then it’s probably time to decline.

Nix the guilt. Many women (including yours truly) feel obligated to lend a hand every time a friend or coworker asks for help. We like feeling needed, and we often feel guilty saying no. But if you agree to too many favors that don’t align with your own priorities, instead of feeling useful and helpful, you’ll feel stressed and over-committed. The other person will get over it, and you’ll be more productive by focusing on the things that really matter to you.

Be honest. Don’t create an elaborate excuse for why you can’t help (“Gee, I wish I could, but I’m getting a root canal this weekend” or “Sorry, but I have to work late”). You’ll feel guilty and it won’t be pretty if the person somehow finds out. Nor should you offer a lengthy explanation about the one million other things you have to do. Instead, say politely and honestly that you’re stressed out and need some time to get back on track. Or you wish you could donate to your friend’s nonprofit fund-raiser, but you need to watch your spending. If you intend to help out next time, then tell her that, but don’t offer promises you have no intention of keeping.

Offer an alternative. Some situations merit a compromise. Maybe you’re not available to drag a futon and dresser up four flights of stairs (and frankly, who could blame you?), but you can refer them to a moving company you’ve used in the past. Perhaps you can’t to go the trade show in place of your coworker, but you know someone else in the company who is dying for more responsibility. By offering another solution, you can help out without doing any heavy lifting. What can be better than that?