Life is full of opportunities and choices. And as I talk about in my book, Say Goodbye to Survival Mode, if you want to have margin and breathing room in your life and not feel constantly exhausted and overwhelmed, you’ve got to learn to say no.
This doesn’t mean that you say no to everything and everyone all the time, but that you carefully evaluate each opportunity in light of your long-term priorities and goals and your current responsibilities — and say “no” when something is not a good fit.
That all sounds great to most people, but the feedback I’ve been hearing a lot is, “I want to pare down my responsibilities and commitments. I want to stop rushing through life and feeling pulled in so many different directions. But how do I start saying no without ruining relationships?”
Here are some suggestions:
1. Be Gracious
When saying no, always be very gracious in how you say it. If you come across as uncaring and rude, you’re bound to hurt the other person. Express gratitude that they would ask you and then explain that this isn’t going to work because of X but that you are so honored they would ask.
Example: Just this past week, some friends asked if we could get together. While I would love to get together with them, as I looked at the calendar, I realized that the week was already quite full and that adding one more thing would probably be too much.
So I expressed how much I appreciated the invite and that I’d love to get together, but that this week was already full and adding another commitment to the week would probably be cause for stress. I then followed up with another possible date for us to get together in a few weeks.
2. Be Honest
I’ve found that it’s helpful to give a concise explanation when saying no to someone or something. This lets the person know that it’s not about them; it’s just that the opportunity is not a good fit for your current life season.
Don’t over-explain, but a simple two or three sentence reason will help the person who asks to know where you’re coming from and why you’re saying no at this time.
Example: An online acquaintance asked me to endorse her soon-to-be-released book. As I have time, I am honored to occasionally endorse books that are coming out. Since I try to always read through books before giving an endorsement, this takes quite a bit of time on my part. As a result, I’ve learned to check my upcoming schedule before committing to read and endorse a book.
In this case, the deadline was too soon for me to be able to get the endorsement in with other responsibilities I’d already committed to. So I wrote back and told this person that while I’d love to endorse her book, the time frame didn’t work out for me right now.
3. Offer An Alternative
If you can’t say yes right now, consider if you can say yes in the future or offer an alternative. This is especially important for close friends and family members. You can’t say yes to them all the time, but you can look for ways to offer an alternative.
Example: In point number one above, I shared how I had told friends we couldn’t get together this week, but had proposed another week that would work. This is a great way to be able to say no without completely saying no — thus, finding a compromise that is a good fit for everyone!
Be Sure to Tie Up Loose Ends
If you are thinking of stepping down from a commitment, be sure to clearly communicate why you’re going the direction you are to those involved and then tie up the loose ends on your responsibilities and projects before pulling out completely. This way, you’re fulfilling your commitments and not leaving people high and dry. It might require more work in the short run, but it will probably mean that you don’t frustrate others and burn bridges in the process.
If you follow all of these steps and the end result is that someone is angry and upset because you had to graciously bow out, it’s probably not a healthy relationship to begin with. In fact, I’d wager to say that you might be being used in the situation — and the person cares more about you as an asset than you as a person.
If they are angry that you are no longer going to be helping or participating instead of understanding that it’s not a good fit for you right now, it’s probably time that you step back or set boundaries in this relationship. You can’t make everyone happy all the time, but I encourage you to surround yourself with people care more about you than they care about what they can get from you.
What advice and tips do you have for saying no without ruining relationships?