The Zen of Saying No - Rethink Central

The Zen of Saying No

by | May 23, 2012 | Life Spring Cleaning, Time Management, Top 9 Post, Top 9 Post NEW

“Why do people say yes when they mean no? ”
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If the to-do list is longer than your wish list, it time to think about your priorities.

Many people take on a lot more than they can reasonably achieve.  Instead of getting ahead, they are spending too much time trying to stay afloat.

It’s a dangerous position.  One of the main reasons for this is saying yes, when every bone in your body is screaming – I REALLY never want to do that.  Almost everyone does it – even though some people are better at it than others.

Why do people say yes when they mean no? 

  • They don’t want any trouble.  Nobody likes confronting their angry or irritated colleagues.  It’s really hard when saying no means your home, your safe refuge, develops a nasty atmosphere.
  • They don’t want to miss out on the future.  Lots of people console their weary souls with the idea that working through the night today could lead to a promotion tomorrow.
  • They don’t want to seem rude.  Many people have the idea “no” is a four letter word.  What a sad world this would be if that were the case.
  • They like the validation.  It is nice to believe that someone else can use our help with something.
  • They really want to help.  There are just some things that are close to our hearts, even if it won’t touch sides in our schedules.

The problem with agreeing to these things is that you are refusing to value yourself or your time.  Both are precious.  Everybody wants the opportunity to be the good guy, save the day, and show off their skills.  But where and when we do these things should be focused on our goals and priorities.

What tasks should we decline?

Even if you are at the crossroads of your future, there are always targets to achieve, and they should be on a “yes” list.  Making a “no” list is much harder, because it means virtually everything else in the world.

It may be worthwhile for the chronically yes-minded to keep track of all the time they spend on activities and work that they really wanted to refuse.  When you see how much time is actually spent on unimportant things, it is easy to redirect your focus.

Just because we know we need to start saying no doesn’t mean saying it is magically a simple task.  Here are a few gentle suggestions you can incorporate into your vocabulary – and that won’t make you feel like a monster!

A few easy ways to say no:

  • Defer the commitment.  Okay, here you are actually saying yes, you are just promising to do it at some later stage.  This only works on requests that are not time sensitive.  Make a note that you want to free up some time to do this, and then make sure to follow up, even if you eventually say, “listen, I really wanted to do this, but it is turning into an impossibility.”
  • I wish I could, but I can’t.  This has “no” written all over it, but it sounds a little softer.  Sometimes you will mean it, and sometimes you will mean it as a way to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.  Either way, it is not as forceful as simply saying no.  Make sure you are not opening yourself up for future badgering.
  • I’ll think about it.  Parents love to use this one with their kids.  What it really means is, “if you press me for an answer now, then no.  But, give me some time to think about whether I am being unreasonable.”  The answer may still be no (and perhaps should be), but at least you will have had some time to list all the reasons it isn’t going to work for you.
  • I’m really not the person to ask.  You don’t need to say that you can’t do it, only that you are not able to help at this time.  By giving someone another lead, you won’t leave them empty handed.  It feels a lot better inside that you were able to help in some small way.
  • Just say it.  Really there is nothing rude or hurtful about the word “no”.  It is even polite enough to say to your aging aunties and young children.  It says that you value your time and their request.
  • Offer up something you can do.  You may not have time to go through a forty page report tonight, but you may be able to get through the first 10 pages.  By responding with something that you are able to assist with, you are helping both parties.  Of course, if you aren’t going to peek at the folder until morning, no is still the best answer.

Take some time to value yourself.  You are the only you in the world and your wants and needs are just as important as everyone else’s.


If you’ve enjoyed this post – why not check out these other time management posts:

Time management: a small change you can implement today
The ‘busy’ trap
Finding time for introspection

and for an inspirational 5 minute video, do check out

What if money was no object?

And as always – do please comment below, we love to hear from you.


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