Eight Guiding Principles
The "Art of No" is about focus. What you decide to not do leaves more room for doing what you need and want to do.
Can you articulate and even rank what is important to you? At work? At home? If you can put what is important into words, then you can make better decisions about what not to do. It will help you to not be reactive to every opportunity or request that comes along. Priorities can and will shift. So be open to new possibilities, but be clear to yourself why something new can become a priority. You can use the Urgent/Important Matrix to help you articulate your priorities. Nobody says this is easy! But give it a try.
2. No, thank you
Somebody has respected you enough to ask you to do something. They deserve your reply. Your reply should be honest and gracious and fair to yourself. If you say yes to something that you have no energy for or no interest in (and is not a priority for you), then you are not being fair to yourself and you are not being honest. It may feel easier to not answer at all, but your lack of clear communication puts someone else in a difficult position. There are all sorts of ways to say no with grace. Practice these phrases and make up a few of your own so they are at hand when you need them.
• No, I can't do that, but I can do...
• No, I'm not available to commit to something like that at this time, but I appreciate you asking me.
• No, that isn't something I'm really great at, but maybe X would be a good resource (sometimes it's okay to pass the buck).
• No, that is out of my scope, but here's how you can get it done...
• No. Thank you so much for asking, but I can't do that. Let me know if I can help in another way (if you mean it).
Don't feel like you have to lie. Many people will see right through you. Don't feel like you have to elaborate. Nobody wants to hear it. Do be honest and genuine and authentic. Just keep it simple!
3. It's not all about you
Saying no is more than being "all about you." It isn't about being selfish. There are times when you should say yes, even when it does inconvenience you. This may not sound like a principle of no, but it is. You live in your life with other people. You care about these other people and you want them to feel cared for, loved and respected. In a non-manipulative, mature, respectful relationship, there are times when saying yes, even if it puts you out a bit, is important. I don't mean be a doormat, or that you have to be a super-human and do everything for everyone. Just recognize that sometimes there are times when compromise is good, because your priority is the person you are compromising with and not necessarily the idea you are compromising on.
M. Scott Peck explores this concept in his chapter called "Love Defined" from the book The Road Less Traveled. He says, "I believe it will become clear that not only do self-love and the love of others go hand in hand but that ultimately they are indistinguishable."
4. Suck it up
Some things you simply have to do. Get over it and get it done. Don't waste your energy on avoidance, procrastination, anger or whatever it is you do. Sometimes the paper won't get written, the bathroom won't get cleaned or the dog won't get walked unless you do it. So don't debate it. Put it on your list and then cross it off.
5. Practice makes perfect
Have your "no" phrases as ready as your business cards. Keep them handy. Keep them honest. See #2. It is so important to make yourself comfortable with saying no that I put it in here twice.
6. You decide where to draw the line
Whether it is where to donate money (there is always someone asking), or when texting is allowed at the table, some situations cause guilt or friction as a result of your decision. Create some boundaries ahead of time. Articulate your rules when you have a calm, clear head. Then when you need to act on them (by saying no) they will be handy. Pick your battles, but be prepared to win them.
7. It's okay!
Give yourself permission to say no. This takes practice, too. We all want to be good people (at least most of us do). Perhaps we want to save the world, be the best mother ever or be the favorite go-to person at work. It is unlikely that you will be able to do it all, all the time. Those are worthy aspirations, but you need to remember one important thing -- the oxygen mask. On an airplane, you are told to always put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help someone else. There is a really good reason for this. If you aren't breathing you won't be able to help someone else. If you are saying yes to too many things, you aren't breathing. You aren't taking care of yourself, so you can forget about saving the world and doing all those things that are very important to you. Breathe.
8. What if?
In dangerous situations just say no however you can. Lie, be rude, run, be scary. Just get out of there.
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