by Trine Blücher
Many of my clients struggle with using this small word that has big impact: No. So, when I was asked to write this article on saying no, I said yes (pun intended)!
Saying no ironically has become a business culture “no-no,” as organizations increasingly look for and reward people displaying positive can-do attitudes. Through popular culture we are promised that saying yes to all our passions will give us a happier life. Social media is not supporting us in making important life and career choices. To be a real success and live a meaningful and constantly passionate life, we need to have amazingly successful careers, be involved parents, cook vegan meals for our friends, winning an Iron (wo)Man and overall just be superhuman.
Thus, opting in is seemingly better than opting out. What we need to understand is that saying yes to everything is also saying no to something else. Every positive choice involves a choice of saying no to something else that might also be important. Even non-choices or procrastination are choices too.
Taking responsibility for your priorities
In my work with CEOs, we often discuss whether they are actively choosing something, or that something is choosing them. Knowing and prioritizing what is truly important and thus meaningful to us is part of our human leadership journey in the 21st century. By not being true to your own priorities, you are effectively taking responsibility for other people’s priorities. If priority No. 1 is your family, why do you say yes to a meeting that will see you miss out on your child’s theater performance? In reality, what would happen if you said, “I agree that the meeting is important, but I cannot do it on this date,” and then suggest an alternative date?
Saying no with grace
Asserting yourself and your needs doesn’t mean you need to be brutal or rude. When responding to an invitation or request that you either cannot or will not accept, decline with grace. Thank the person for inviting, thinking of or trusting you, and if you don’t want to or can’t do it, say no thank you. If something doesn’t fit into what is important to you, decline graciously. If your chairman or boss asks you to take on yet another project, and you know you will not be able to reach your other deadlines if you accept the task, ask them which project she or he prefers you put on stand-by. It is not impolite; but realistic.
Accepting a no with grace
Not accepting a no with grace really is more about you than it is about the other person. The no may trigger old wounds, beliefs or stories you have about yourself, others and your place in the world. Own your reactions to other people’s no to you, be curious and move on with grace.
Tell only truths
When we tell an untruth — even the smallest one — we introduce disrespect and dishonesty in our relationships. Not long ago, I met a high school chum whom I haven’t seen for 25 years. After the chat, the temptation to declare something along the line of “Lovely to see you, it would be great to meet for coffee some time” was there. It would have been kind, and untrue. So, I left it at, “Great to see you again after all these years.” If you are not sorry, don’t apologize. If you are OK with missing the event, don’t write “unfortunately.” When you can’t join a birthday party or take a meeting, say thank you for the request and tell a gracious truth. “Thank you so much for reaching out to me. I can’t take this meeting at this moment, but I would be available to meet in January.”
Are you saying yes to protect the relationship?
Saying yes when no would have been a more appropriate answer, might also occur when we are afraid of risking or damaging the relationship. Examine your reasons for not saying no. Are you trying to avoid disappointing the other person? Do you think the other person will get mad at you, remove privileges, not like you? When you say yes out of a false sense of obligation, you are not doing anyone any favors.
As adults, it is our right to say no. When we assertively and gracefully communicate our no thank you, we are showing ourselves and other people sincere and appropriate respect.
Trine Blücher is a sought-after organizational developer, YPO certified forum facilitator and transformational executive coach. She works with and guides senior executives on how to uncover and address core challenges in communication, cooperation and culture. Trine’s background in business, professional supervision and coaching gives her a unique understanding of leadership challenges and possibilities. She is the Founder of the Institute of Narrative Practice.
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