Spoiler Alert: Over time, I have learned how to say no nicely, politely, and maybe even graciously to family and friends. I can even say no without feeling guilty or like a failure. I’m sharing my best step-by-step tips on how you can do just that. And here’s the best part. Saying no gives me time and energy left over to say yes to what matters to me the most. For me, that’s a slower lifestyle and meaningful time with my family. Once you learn how to say no, what will you say yes to? The possibilities are endless.
We weren’t particularly friends, so I was curious when I answered the call from another preschool mom. We went through the typical polite chit chat and then she said, “We think you’d be great; would you like to work the auction this year?” I was flattered to have a personal phone call instead of just a sign up sheet. “Sure, I’d love to!” I answered.
And then she clarified what she meant.
I wish I had known how to say no then.
People Pleaser Much?
It quickly became clear that I didn’t understand what she was really asking. She didn’t just want me to help on the committee, she wanted me to chair the committee.
I don’t know about you – but I have a long history of being a people pleaser. Most women and, especially mothers, do.
Let’s think about this:
- Adults teach children not to disagree or say no;
- We don’t like adolescents to “rock the boat,” “upset anyone,” “appear impolite,” or “upset the applecart.”
- I so excited I might just say yes before I can think things through. Have you ever had the experience of wanting to pull the words back even as they were coming out of your mouth?;
- Decision fatigue can turn anyone into a yes person;
- Being asked to take on a task is flattering – somebody believes in our capability;
- I’ll be rejected if I say no;
- People will label me as selfish;
- What if we disappoint somebody or hurt their feelings?
And, let’s face it. When we say “no” we feel guilty. Somebody asked for our help, and we refused. What kind of monster does that????
And if we don’t do all the things, we are probably missing out on what matters most. We end up feeling as if we’ve failed, we aren’t good enough, or we aren’t worthy. Because mothers do all the things, don’t we?
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Getting Caught Up In The Flattery
Chairing the auction, having zero relevant experience, I felt flattered. The auction was the school’s largest fundraiser of the year and certain programs had to be funded by the auction or they wouldn’t get funding next year. And the Board felt that I was the person for the job. I felt important.
What a challenge! I got caught up in the excitement of how fun the auctions were, the idea of challenging myself, and the dream of being successful and raising boatloads of money to make the whole preschool happy.
So, when I heard all of her flattery, then added in my own two cents – I enthusiastically said, “yes!!!” But I had no idea what I was getting into. I had no idea how to say no to this or yes to what matters most to me. My son.
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Create Time & Energy For What Matters To You
So if it’s so hard to say no, why do we need to say no at all? It’s easy. Because no matter how hard we try or even how desperately we want to, no mom can do all the things.
Here’s the deal. For each thing that you say no to, you’ve opened a door to allow in something amazing and meaningful to you, your joy, and your family.
Saying no to the things that are not serving your values gives you the time and energy to say yes to what matters to you – the people and things that mean the most to you.
We all sort of kind of know this right? Nobody can do #allthethings. But still we try – forgetting that it’s important to determine what matters most for our families.
We have this notion that everybody deserves #allthethings from us.
But the truth is, those who are genuinely deserving of our time and energy, those who matter most, deserve #thebestthings from us.
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The Moment My Heart Crashed On The Floor
I learned the hard way that it was time to say no. Organizing an auction is a pretty large undertaking with a lot of phone calls, meetings, writing, and management and organizing in general.
I had just hung up from making decisions with the auction caterer one afternoon, and my almost two year old son came into the room with a look of determination. It was the look of Thor going after Loki; of Luke going after Darth Vader; or like Alabama going after Auburn.
He was determined to get whatever it was that he wanted. He walked right up to me, took my phone from my hand, and said, “NO more auction!!!!” Then he dropped the phone on the floor.
My heart may as well have been what was hurled to the floor.
It shattered in that instant because in his finest display of two year old communication, he told me that he was missing me. He said he needed me and I wasn’t there for him. My son wanted me to read stories to him and rock him as he fell asleep for his nap. He wanted us to color and play games. This little boy didn’t want to hear any more about some stupid auction he couldn’t understand.
My son, in his own two year old and unrefined manner had just taught me what it means to emphatically say no. He taught me what matters most.
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When to Say No
You can think of this as the Marie Kondo of decision making. If somebody asks something of you and it doesn’t bring you joy or closer to what matters to you – it should be a no. We all have ways of contributing that will bring us joy.
So, if it’s not an immediate “Heck, yeah!” it should probably be a no.
In myself, when I feel uncomfortable feelings like, anxiety, impatience, frustration, or anger – it means that I’m taking something on that isn’t bringing me joy and which doesn’t align with what matters most to me.
You’ve probably heard that in order to say yes to something, you should consider what other things you may now need to say no to. But the great news is that it works the other way as well.
When you say no, you get to consider what other things you will now be able to allow into your life!
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How To Say No In Four Easy No-Guilt Steps
I have two goals when I say no.
The first is not to be wishy washy. I want to give an emphatic no, so that I don’t have to do it again. No maybes allowed.
Second, I want to preserve or even enhance my relationship with the person to whom I’m saying no.
If you want to learn how to say no, just follow these four steps for a guilt-free experience. I can’t take credit for the genius that I’m about to share. A well-known online entrepreneur, Michael Hyatt, has a similar formula for saying no in the context of business. I took his brilliance, and adapted it for a more personal context.
Here we go, step by step:
- Gratitude: Let them know that you are both grateful and flattered that they thought of you for the task.
- Recognition: Share your concern for the cause or goal.
- No: Give a firm no.
- Offer: If you are aware of an alternative or additional resources that would be helpful, offer them. Likewise, if you are willing to commit to a smaller task, then you can offer that.
So, in my school auction example, had I known then what I know now – it would have gone something like this:
Other Mom: Hi! So, Karen. We think you would be a terrific fit to work on the auction. It’s a really fun job and you’ll get to meet a lot of the moms here at school. So many people help out with the auction. We would love to have you chair the event. Would you let me go back to the board and tell them that you accept?
Me: Oh, Other Mom! (I’ve numbered the parts of my response to show you how they match with the steps above.)
- You caught me off guard. I am so flattered that you would think of me in your search for an auction chair.
- We had such a wonderful time at the auction last year and I know how important it is in terms of funding programs for next year. We love supporting the event.
- Unfortunately, given my current obligations, I can’t commit the amount of time and energy needed to make the auction a success.
- However, I do know several of owners of local businesses who may be willing to make a donation. I will be happy to check with them and get several donations for the auction.
One last tip. In certain circumstances, saying no due to time constraints can feel offensive to the person asking. For example, if someone “wanted to grab lunch sometime,” and you responded that you were too busy – it might make that person feel that they were not important to you. In my auction example, I think time is a legitimate excuse because the ask was for many, many hours of work.
So, if you’re in a situation where you want to say no and you feel someone may be hurt if you claim not to have the time, offer up either a financial excuse (if appropriate) or share that you lack the energy to accept. Most people readily understand both of these responses.
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