I wish I had said “No”

Wishing you'd said 'no'.

I wish I had said “No”

We say “yes” to others because we want to please them. But when eventually we can’t continue, we let them down and we feel guilty. Both parties suffer. Recognise that a desire to please often prevents us from saying “no”.

  • Stick to your plan. If you have a written set of goals and strategies, this gives you a reason to stick to your course. (“Thanks, but I already have an investment plan, so you don’t need to send me a newsletter about stocks.”)
  • When someone persists, repeat your position, perhaps in a slightly different way. (“As I already said, our policy is to donate to charities that help children only.”)
  • Make sure you understand exactly what is being asked of you before you respond. Perhaps the task is more time consuming than you thought. On the other hand, it may not take much effort at all.
  • Excel at just a few things, rather than being just average at many. Don’t try to do everything.
  • You have a right to say no. Remember that others may take you for granted and even lose respect for you if you don’t.
  • Be polite, but firm in saying no. You only build false hopes with wishy-washy responses. For instance, the phrase “I’ll try to be there” in response to a party invitation is giving yourself an excuse to avoid a commitment. It doesn’t do anyone any favours.
  • When your boss asks you to do a new urgent task, remind them that you are working on other projects that they have already identified as top priorities. Ask for help in deciding where the new task should fall on the list of priorities
  • Point out that you might be able to do everything, but not to the usual high standards that are expected.
  • Some experts recommend keeping your answer short. This way, you can say no without feeling the need for a lengthy justification. (“I’m sorry, I’m not available that night.”) On the other hand, others say that giving a longer answer with reasons reinforces your credibility. Let the situation decide.
  • Provide suggestions or alternatives to the person who is asking. (“I can’t do that task today, but how about next week,” or “How about asking John instead?”)
  • When in doubt, it’s easier to say no now, then change your mind to a yes later, rather than the other way around.

When You Have to Say Yes

Sometimes, saying no is simply unavoidable. Here are some techniques to use:

  • Tell the person you can agree to their request this time, but ask how the two of you might plan better for the next time.
  • Tell them yes, but remind them they owe you one. For example, they might cover you for a shift next time you need time off.
  • Tell them yes, but take control by saying you’ll come back to them with a timetable. For instance, say, “I expect I’ll be able to do that for you by the end of the week.”
  • Put a tough condition on your agreement. “If it would only take an hour, I’d be able to help, but I can’t give you more than that.