The Power Of No: How And When To Say It

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Aug. 25 2022, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

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When the answer to “How are you?” is always, “Good. Busy, but good,” you might have the same problem that far too many of us in America have today. The hectic nature of life, from school and work to raising families or pursuing creative development, isn’t inherently bad, but it isn’t inherently good, either.

Speaking as someone who basically holds down three full-time jobs and is in grad school full time, the power of “no” is a critical aspect of life for busy individuals who tend toward empathy and hate disappointing anyone. But using that power is critical for our mental health and physical well-being, so learning how and when to use is important.

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Why Saying “No” Is Important

Whether we’re talking professional or personal requests people bring to us, we do have the power and the right to say “no” sometimes. It can feel like a giant weight crushing us in either situation, but that’s a societally taught issue, not reality. We are all worthy of doing what is best for ourselves, best for our families, and best for achieving our goals. We are worthy of saying “no” to anything we need to for better mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health.

Even if the request is from your employer, you are not required to say yes.

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Some days, I can crack open my calendar and feel excited about the activities, projects, or events going on. But most of the time, I feel more overwhelmed than excited. There’s always another project, another party, another job I could take on, another grad school assignment due. But figuring out what things to say “no” to can be part of what overwhelms me.

1. Seek advice from people you trust.

If you find yourself in this sort of situation, don’t be afraid to ask those closest and most trustworthy in your life for a second opinion (or the first, if you can’t even start!). Bring your calendar, or invitations, or potential projects with you to that trusted person and honestly let them know how overwhelmed you are.

Communicate directly what you need help with: deciding what to say “no” to. Let that person then ask you questions about why you’re having a hard time saying no to something and listen to their thoughts and advice.

Sometimes, we know what we need to get rid of from our schedules but need validation or confirmation that we’re right. There’s nothing wrong with that!

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2. Create parameters and boundaries around your schedule based on your personal priorities.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received regarding the power of no is that you should not only create boundaries in your life but do so around your own personal priorities, not someone else’s for you.

As someone who’s highly empathetic and very much a people pleaser, I have for many years prioritized my calendar and life around doing things that help others. There’s nothing wrong with helping others – in fact, we should aim to help others whenever we safely can – but doing so to your detriment doesn’t ultimately help anyone.

When you’re asked to help with a project at work, school, church, the kids’ school, or anywhere else, ask yourself some questions before giving your answer.

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  • Will this add a lot of stress or anxiety to my life?
  • Will this help someone who’s truly in need or am I just the “easy ask”?
  • Is this something that I have time to participate in or do?
  • Do I want to do this?
  • Does this move me towards my career/relationship/family/faith/social/health goals or dreams?

Ultimately, the main question I always ask myself when I’ve requested on a project is “Is this a good thing to do or is it the best thing to do?”

3. Learn to say “no” appropriately for the situation.

Once you’ve decided you’re going to say no to something, finding the right way to do so is important. You always want to decline in a way that honors your boundaries while also respecting the party you’re saying “no” to.

Some helpful phrases from Flowrite that you may want to consider include:

  • “I don’t have enough time on my plate to offer you quality help.”
  • “Thank you so much for thinking of me. Given my current workload, I’m unable to do a good job on your project, and my other work would suffer.”
  • “Unfortunately, at the moment I don’t have time to help you with this project. I hope you find someone else to support you.”

A few phrases I have used:

  • “I appreciate the honor of being asked, but I am not able to participate at this time.”
  • “I really wish I could say yes to this! It sounds like a great fundraiser. Unfortunately, I am overloaded at work right now and simply cannot take anything more on.”
  • “That sounds like fun! Unfortunately, I can’t make it.”

Do yourself a favor and use any of these phrases or some amalgamation of them to say no with all your power and all the kindness the recipient deserves. You deserve to say “no” as much as anyone else deserves a “yes.”

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By: Rita Pike

Rita Juanita Pike is the granddaughter of Jerrie Mock, the first woman to pilot an airplane around the world. Rita has taken inspiration from her grandmother’s life and flight and pursued many of her own dreams in theater, podcasting, and novel writing. She now writes about travel, pets, faith, and the arts. She’s happily married to Matt, and faithfully serves a very fluffy kitten queen, Lady Stardust.

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