Saying ‘No’ without the guilts

I must admit it is very 2015 to #justsayyes to anything and work out the details later.  In an age of everyday super heroes where we expect ourselves to multi-task families, jobs, friends, never ending personal admin lists and societal demands we often make the decision not to say no to anything for fear of what others might think – quelle horreur if we get labelled selfish or worse still we suffer from the frequently overused acronym FOMO.

This morning at The You Space (one of my group coaching workshops) we talked about the art of saying no. We all agreed that saying yes to the right things was awesome. You meet new people, have unique experiences you mightn’t normally, learn new techniques and boy, do you feel great when you help someone out who really appreciates your time and effort.

And let’s be honest. Some of us quite like saying yes to everything. We feel needed and valuable and sometimes we love the story that we are so busy helping others we don’t have time for ourselves. This story is great except when you’re skipping meals, your health goals,  family time and rushing round at work like a crazy person attempting to squeeze it all in. Can I cheekily suggest if this is you it’s worth considering what you are getting from your ‘I’m so busy’ story. Or perhaps there’s a part of you which likes being ‘worried’ about helping others, preoccupying yourself with their problems so you don’t have to think about your own? It’s quite a nice distraction isn’t it?

As cool and lovely as saying yes is, for those of us looking for balance and prioritising our own needs we need to learn to say no. And with conviction.  If we don’t, we end up draining ourselves of all our energy on tasks we don’t want to do and have nothing left in the tank for things we do want.  Today at The You Space one client revealed by saying yes too often before you know it you are ‘reliable yes mum, sister, mate, school helper, local volunteer team of one’. Not an ideal position to be in unless you want to be known as the Yes Lady/ Lad baking 20 cakes for the school fete or managing 5 junior soccer teams.

Saying No thanks starts with a mindset change. It starts with putting your needs first. Eeek. I know. How dare I say it! But if you take a look at your big picture, how is saying yes to so many activities, appointments, play dates, overtime for a colleague working out for you? You’re going to have to get a little (or a lot more) PRO YOU.41129-1_n


You’ll notice when you are able to put your needs first and become focused on your key goals, purpose, values and have conviction about where you are heading saying no will be a heck of a lot easier. Steve Jobs said “Focus is about saying no” Here’s some ideas for how to say no.

  • Say no straight away if you know you’re not going to do it. Don’t procrastinate.
  • If you can’t help out at an event politely decline but send through a helpful tip/ article.
  • I love this option for an email reply “Wow, great opportunity thanks for thinking of including my brains in the mix. I’m fully committed next week but I’d love to hear how it goes”.
  • No explanation required? No. Just means no. You’re already committed elsewhere and you don’t need to justify it to anyone. If detail is required explain you’re already fully booked and it would be letting the others down as well as yourself whom you’ve already fully committed to.

Check  out this four part formula for saying no (If you’ve ever had a review process in the office this may seem remarkably familiar).

  1. Start with a compliment
  2. Give your answer
  3. Say thank you.
  4. Encourage the person.

For the ‘bully’ who keeps asking. Re-iterate how you keep promises to yourself/ family and expect the same of them. We make promises to others so why can’t we keep the ones we make to ourselves?

For the ‘on second thoughts I want to pull the pin’ dilemma – be polite, firm and honest. Admit on reflection you have over-committed without thinking through the consequences, you aren’t able to give 100% and if you have them make suggestions for alternatives. Remember everyone makes hasty decisions now and again. No one is going to hold you to ransom for stepping out of a commitment. We’re only human and unless you’re volunteering for Red Cross you’re not saving lives. There will be someone else where this opportunity is exactly what they needed.

But what about the guilt? Guilt is an interesting one. We are the ones who have decided to feel guilty about not doing something. No one has forced us to feel guilty – no one can make you feel anything you don’t want to feel.  When you see the bigger picture of your overall focus whereby your time and energy is being poured into a greater purpose the guilt won’t ring in your little ears quite so loudly.

So when you next want to say no – just do it ! And if you’re diary is fully stacked with extra commitments which aren’t serving you and you’re feeling massively overwhelmed and under-excited about your calendar I think you know what you need to do next.