How To Get Better At Saying No

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By Marleen Komar

While I would love to stay in a blanket burrito for all of my days, I often times get lured out of my house because of my inability to say no. I’m sure many can sympathize: Those parties you get guilt-tripped into going to, network events you got cornered into, projects you take onto your workload, and obscure hangouts you’d rather not be doing. Many of us constantly do a medley of activities we’d so rather not because of our hesitance over rejecting people. No one likes to experience that cringe-y moment when they have to slight someone with a refusal.

Or maybe it has nothing to do with someone’s feelings and everything to do with your competence. Maybe you don’t like saying no because you fear it will come across like you can’t do and handle it all. What’s another assignment, activity, or to-do item? You’re Wonder Woman and you’ve got this. But would a simple no really take all that away from you?

If you’re tired of being over-worked, spread thin, and constantly going places you don’t want to be attending, then these tips are for you. Below are 11 ways to get better at saying no — the more you say it, the easier it will be.

1. See It This Way: Saying No Shows You Have A Game Plan

Saying yes to on the fly plans and hastily chucked projects can be fine from time to time, but don’t feel obligated to do so. Why? Because by saying no, all you’re doing is sharing you already have a game plan set that can’t be reshuffled. Marketing consultant Scott Fetters shared with Lifehack, “It shows you have a vision, a plan, and an opinion. By clearly articulating your needs, challenges, or deadlines (in advance if possible) you begin to eliminate distractions.” While you can thank them for the thought, you can’t invite new distractions in at this time.

2. Don’t Spin Stories In Your Head

Rather than thinking your friend will get mad at you, your boss will think you’re lazy, or you’ll miss out on something mega amazing, just say no and release those over-exaggerated feelings. Lifestyle writer Jude Temple from self development site Mind Body Green explained, “Let’s fess up: Our brains are champion storytellers. So decide now that whenever saying no is what you need, you will let it go. The anxieties will arise, but observe them and release them.” They can pop up, but let them go rather than gnawing on them. You’re over-reacting.

3. Know Your Priorities

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If you know what your priorities are, saying no won’t feel as hard. For example, at work you know which assignments are helping you further your career so taking on smaller tasks won’t make much sense. Or at home, you know what you want to spend your free time on, so going on that random coffee date with an acquaintance doesn’t fit. Lifestyle writer Leo Babauta from Lifehacker pointed out, “Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time?” With strong priorities comes clearer answers.

4. Take A Point Of Power

Rather than opening the doors to be persuaded to change your mind during a later time, take the reins of the discussion. Lifestyle writer Jonathan Alpert from Huffington Post recommended, “You might say, ‘I’m sorry I can’t right now but will let you know when and if I can.’ This approach is polite, and puts you in a position of power by changing the dynamic.” If you change your mind, you’ll be the one doing the approaching, leaving you in charge.

5. Understand People’s Tactics

When people want something, they usually find a way to frame it so it’ll be hard for you to say no. Alpert said, “Many people and organizations use manipulation techniques, whether knowingly or not, they’re used.” An example could be of a friend saying, “You haven’t made time to see me in ages, how about drinks this Friday?” Know these tactics, and keep in mind that if they don’t think it’s rude to manipulate you then it’s not rude of you to refuse.

6. Ditch The Need For Excuses

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Saying the word no is more than enough — don’t feel like you need to back it up with an excuse. Temple advised, “With practice, you’ll find it actually feels better to simply say no without explanation, rather than having to whip up another fake migraine or to kill off another of your beloved grandparents.” The person came up to you looking for an answer, not a reason. “No” is plenty.

7. Practice Makes Perfect

The more times you say it the easier it’ll become, so don’t shy away the next time you want to refuse an idea. See it as a chance to practice! Babauta advised, “Saying ‘no’ as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word.” Don’t miss those opportunities.

8. Answer With A Question

Rather than accepting more than you can handle when it comes to your plate, answer someone’s favor request with a question of your own. Alpert advised asking, “I’m happy to do X, Y and Z, however, I would need three weeks, rather than two, to do a good job. How would you like me to prioritize them?” This not only shows the person you already have a lot going on, but you’re putting the responsibility of priority on their shoulders.

9. It’s OK To Pause

Rather than giving an answer right away, it’s okay to ask “Can I get back to you on that?” Temple pointed out, “This simple phrase will buy you some time and distance in order to figure what it is you actually want to do and to come up with a response that feels authentic.” This will help you stop giving out those knee-jerk agreements.

10. Don’t Apologize

today's to do list (@cupofrahman)

A photo posted by Bustle (@bustle) on May 29, 2016 at 7:14am PDT

It might sound like saying “I’m sorry” takes the sting out of your refusal, but all it does is make the person think you might be able to change your mind. Babauta suggested, “While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.” Stay strong, and take out the regrets.

11. It’s OK To Feel Uncomfortable

It’s perfectly OK to want to wring your hands every time you tell someone no — the more times you do it, the easier it will get! So if the first couple of times makes you feel awful, expect it and be okay with it. Temple pointed out, “Brene Brown uses the mantra “I choose discomfort over resentment” to remind herself that rather than be angry and resentful about doing something she doesn’t want to do, she is actively choosing the smaller discomfort of saying no upfront.”

With these suggestions in mind, your schedule will stay just that: Yours. You won’t ever have to do outings and activities you don’t want to.

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