How many times have you said yes to something and later asked yourself what was I thinking? It happens to all of us, we say yes and later wish we had said no. In most cases, this is because we fear to offend someone. The question then is how can we use the word no and not feel bad about it.
Early this year, I read Greg McKeown’s book ‘Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’ . It is a good book especially if you are looking at determining what is important to you and want to weed out the non essential things in your life.
Greg postulates that our main problem is lack of focus and prioritization which results in constant busyness without results. According to him, the question each of us have to ask ourselves is “how can I truly live a life that is focused on the right things?“. He then advocates that we embrace essentialism where the focus is on what is essential.
Greg concludes that “Essentialists say no to what is not essential or derails them from what they have determined to be important”. Using some of the lessons I took from this book, I share 5 ways in which Greg advises we can use the word NO and not feel bad about doing so.
Separate the Decision from the Relationship
Many times, we fail to say no thinking this will mean we are denying the person who made the request. However, when you learn that these two things can be separated then it will be easy for you to say No. This trick works best when you are responding to a person in authority like your boss. You know how sometimes your boss keeps sending requests without stopping to consider how you are coping with earlier requests.
Stephen Covey advised that you let your boss know you will be happy to do it and ask which of the earlier requests you can forego in order to accommodate the new request. By doing this, you are technically letting them know you are not in a position to take on any other assignment without compromising earlier requests.
Decline without using the word No
Grey says “a true essentialist dares to say NO firmly, resolutely and gracefully. They only say yes to the things that really matter”. Okay imagine you have planned a set of activities for the weekend and then last minute a friend calls inviting you to join them in another plan. You are caught between a rock and a hard place. You do not want to hurt your friend’s feelings but you do not want to forego your plans either.
Greg advises that this is a time to choose the word no without necessarily saying it. You can say something like “I am flattered that you thought of me but am afraid I will not be able to join you this time”. With such a response, your friend will accept your apology since you were curtious by acknowledging that she thought of you. In addition, you are also communicating that maybe next time you willbe able to join them.
Focus on the trade off you will have to make
Usually, when we say yes to one thing we are inevitably saying no to another. In the example above, saying yes to your friend’s plan, means saying no to your own plans. The question therefore is to ensure you weigh the cost of your saying yes before doing so.
Greg correctly states that, “a graceful No grows out of a clear but unstated calculation of trade offs”. When you know what is essential for you it will be easy to say no and not feel bad about it. This is because you will know that saying yes to the non essential means denying space and time for the essential.
We have to remember that the enemy of best if often the good. That is why Stephen Covey again asked us to “decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly and non apologetically say no to other things. This can only be done by having a burning yes inside.”
Be ready to trade being popular for being respected
In order to effectively say no and mean it, you have to give up being everyone’s hero. We have all met someone who feels like they are overwhelmed all the time. When you dig deeper you realise that this person is often taking on more than their plate can hold.
The truth is that when you stop trying to be everyone’s hero, you can have the courage and confidence to say no. This may remove you from the popular list but at least you will be able to create and enjoy balance in your life. I like what Marianne Williamson said, we are often tired and imbalanced not because we are doing too much, but because we are doing too little of what is real and meaningful”.
Greg reminds us that, “essentialists accept that they cannot be popular with everyone all the time. This is because respect is far more valuable than popularity in the long run.”
Be a person of your word
You know how some people fear to say no and so they say yes but failto live up to their promises. Please do not be known as such a person. Instead like we were taught when we were young remember that your word is your bound.
When you are known as a person who keeps their word, saying no will be easy for you and those you are communicating it to will understand. This is because they have interacted with you and know that you are a person of integrity.
In cases where you are not able to do what is being asked of you, give options. You can say something like, “unfortunately I am not able to help you this time but maybe x or y can be of help”. Not only would you have given a straight forward answer but also you have offered a possible solution. It helps to remember that like Greg says, “a clear no can be more graceful than a vague or a non committal yes”. The key therefore is to learn when to give the slow “yes” and when to give the quick “no”.
What you have to remember is that you should avoid always finding yourself in situations where you are hijacked by someone else’s agenda or wishes. We live in a world where everyday there is something being offered for you to buy into. When you are aware of what is essential to you, you can easily make the decision whether or not to go ahead and buy. You need to remember that it is okay to be different and be a person who lives by your values. The key to a balanced and fulfilled life is pursuing less but better for your life and the only way you can reach this point is by gracefully saying NO!