5 Lessons from Saying No

Photo of businessman sayng no on phone

Photo of businessman sayng no on phone

I said “no” this week. I didn’t want to say no. I’m a people-pleaser by nature, and the invitation was one that I genuinely wanted to accept. But I said no, nonetheless. As painful as it was to let one opportunity go, I received immediate positive results from my decision that reinforced the power of saying no.

First, the process of empowering myself to say no has been a long one. It began by accepting that while I’d like to be everything to everyone, I acknowledge that saying yes to everyone else means I’m often saying no to myself. I sacrifice my free time, well-being, and preferences for those of others. And while self-sacrifice has its place, it can’t be the default. By saying “no,” I reinforced that I put my goals, needs, and well-being first.

Second, after I acknowledged that I only have so many hours to give each day, I prioritized my goals. Each time a new brainstorm, focus group, or side project request came in, I had a way to evaluate if participating in that request would contribute toward or distract from my goals. This gave me clear decision criteria, and helped me remove emotions from my evaluation.

Next, in saying no, I explained my reasoning to my colleague. I shared that I’m maximizing the time I spend to ensure I’m making my highest contribution to the organization. In doing so, I made my goals clear to my colleagues, which will also help hold me accountable for reaching my goals.

A nice surprise was the response I received from my colleague. She thanked me for my honest and decisive response. She shared that she, too, had recently taken on too many side projects and had been feeling both overwhelmed and distracted. She even plans to save my response as a template for saying no to future requests that don’t align with her focus.

Finally, the biggest lesson learned in saying no is that no one responded negatively. No one was angry, hurt or disappointed by my decision. It didn’t affect my relationships with my colleagues, or my future with the organization.

Often, we say yes to projects because we fear the consequence of saying no. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings or lose an opportunity to be heard. In reality, everyone can empathize with an overloaded schedule. We’ve all needed to say no, but may not have felt empowered to do so. By saying no gracefully, you have an opportunity to explain your priorities, thank them for thinking of you, and possibly recommend other colleagues who would appreciate the opportunity. Saying no to one request may open up a world of opportunities to another deserving colleague.