My name is Lindsey and I am a recovering yes-woman.
Why is it that saying yes—even when it means changing our entire schedule, canceling other plans or doing something totally unpleasant—feels so much easier than just saying no? For me, saying yes was also a lifelong habit. I often said yes because I didn’t know how to say no. But over the past year I learned how, and the benefits have been amazing. Saying no to things you don’t want to do creates more room in your life for the things you do want. Plus, it is a major stress reducer.
Three lessons that helped me learn to say no:
Lesson #1: Get lots of practice. The first thing I learned is that it is much easier to say no to a machine or a stranger than a friend or colleague. Luckily, in modern life we have endless opportunities, such as evites, invitations to connect to strangers on LinkedIn and retail clerks asking if we want to sign up for a store credit card. In these cases, I practiced the principle that “no” is a complete sentence. Zero explanation required. And I found that the more I said no in these casual encounters, the less fearful I became about using the word for more important personal and professional decisions.
Lesson #2: Give yourself time. My career coach taught me a sentence I now use constantly: “I’ll have to get back to you.” If you suffer from people-pleasing, then this sentence is a must. Whenever you are invited to an event, asked for a favor or receive any other request, don’t feel compelled to answer in the moment. This past month I saved myself from countless events simply by delaying my response for 24 hours and then replying with a simple, “I’m sorry but I just can’t make it.”
Lesson #3: Understand that people would rather hear an honest “no” than a dishonest “yes.” In the past, when I really wanted to say no, I would say yes first, in hopes that this would soften the later blow of canceling at the last minute. Wrong! I’ve learned that an honest, upfront answer is the best way to go. Another gem from my coach: “It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid. It’s better to do it quickly and definitively.” I finally began to understand that it is kinder to other people when you say no honestly. It helps them move on and find someone who will give a genuine yes.
These are just three tips in a sea of helpful advice on the art of saying no. I’d love to hear any lessons that have helped you—please share in the comments section. For two little letters, “no” has made an amazing impact on my life and career—I highly recommend it!