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It’s time to learn how to say no.

You know the feeling. It’s Sunday evening and you’re looking at your calendar for the coming week. A sense of anxiety washes over you as you wander how on earth you’re going to get through everything that needs to be done in just five days. Let alone run errands or make time for any kind of social life.

As you look at the week’s schedule of commitments, you notice a pattern. A solid 25% or more of them could have been avoided, if only you hadn’t committed to doing them in the first place. Perhaps that birthday party sounded fun two months ago, but now that it’s two days out you’re dreading it. And that 8 pm lesson with a student who’s two months back on invoices that you reluctantly took on? Sheesh. What were you thinking?

The thing is, you had the ability to not commit. You just buckled. But you’re ready to know how to say no in order to not make that mistake again.

Learn how to say no

The answer is as simple as one two-letter word: no.

The problem is that this word is often hard to say when you’re in the moment.

Saying ‘no’ was a recurring theme in Tim Ferriss’ newest book Tribe of Mentors. Influencers, athletes, digital marketers, comedians, and more spoke to how they’ve found that decreasing unnecessary commitments improved their overall productivity. The takeaway for you as an online teacher and entrepreneur is that in order to optimize your time on what really matters, you’ve got to get rid of what doesn’t.

How to say no in the moment

A general rule of thumb: when asked to commit to something that is days, weeks, or even months ahead, think about what you’re likely to feel about it just before you leave home to go. What are the odds that you’re going to think ‘I really wish I didn’t have to do this?’

Think back to the last time you thought this about a one-off commitment, such as a night out when you’d have rather stayed home or an event you went to simply because you wanted to be nice. Then, think back to when you agreed to do it. How easy would it have been to say no in that moment?

It takes practice, as it’s never easy to let someone down. You don’t want to come across as an asshole, or as not valuing that person’s friendship or time. But equally as important is your burn-out factor.

When asked to do something that might sound appealing in theory but that you know you’re not going to want to do when the time comes, always say no. If it’s not a firm ‘yes,’ it’s a no. Take ‘maybe’ out of the equation.

You can’t be as good as you need to be at work, at home, and to the people in your life when you’re stretched too thin. As much as it sucks to say no to people, this requires not committing to things that aren’t going to offer a specific benefit or work towards solving a specific problem.

But Ray, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

Yes, I hear you. I’ve been there a thousand times. Here’s something to write down in your journal or sticky note to your fridge: it’s better to be upfront with someone than to let them down later. It took me years to learn how to say no.

Bailing at the last minute is one of the most disrespectful things you can do. But equally as hurtful is showing up and not being emotionally present. As sly as you may think you are, it usually shows when you don’t want to be somewhere.

That person would likely much rather here you decline their invitation up front. They’ve been in that situation as well. If necessary, you can offer to meet at a later time or different location that better suits your schedule, but often a firm ‘no’ is the best way forward. It can go something like this scenario, where a friend texts me and invites me out to a party:

Saying no in practice

Friend: Hey Ray! We’re hosting a birthday party for Susan this weekend and you need to be there! We’re starting with dinner at Romano’s at 7 and then moving across the street for drinks. The reservation’s already made!

Me: Hey John. Thanks for the invite. I appreciate the offer but I’m not going to make it out this weekend. Send my birthday wishes!

Prospective student: Hello,

My name is John Doe. I’m interested in Italian lessons, as my wife and I are planning an upcoming trip to Italy. We’ve been considering a few different platforms including yours, and in order to help us make a decision, I’m writing to ask if we can try your services for a month at a 50% discount, just to get a feel for how they work. If everything goes well, we’ll be sure to sign up at the regular rate.

Ray, responding from the business email:

Hello John,

Thanks for writing, and I do thank you for your interest in our platform. Unfortunately, I cannot offer any discount beyond our initial trial lesson, which we offer to all new students. We’re very confident in our teaching methods and believe that our rates are fair, and we can’t give preferential treatment – even our staff members pay for lessons, if they wish to take them. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about immersive language learning, and again I thank you for your time and interest. We look forward to working with you.

Best,

Ray Blakney

These are very basic examples. Far more complicated settings are likely to arise, whether that be an invitation to speak at a conference, an intern or student (or even someone completely random that you’ve never met) reaching out asking for free mentorship, group vacations that you don’t have time for or can’t afford at the moment.

The takeaway here is that it’s better to be upfront and firm. A wishy-washy or malleable answer is only going to lead the person to follow up and continue with their ask. Saying ‘no’ quickly, and not leaving open an option for rebuttal, is the only way you’re going to get out clean.

It’s not always easy to do, but trust me – they’ll respect you much more for sticking to your guns than if you let hem talk you into something that you clearly don’t want to do. This goes for every angle in life, not just with work or friends.

You’re not a bad person for saying no

Once the firm ‘no’ has been issued, you’re likely to be plagued by at least a momentary feeling of guilt. Let that go. You have to do what is right for you, not for someone else.

As you get better at saying no, you’ll become more confident in your ability to do so. It will get more natural. Here’s the kicker – no one is going to hate you for it. At least, no one that is worth having in your life. Not committing to something that isn’t for you in no way makes you a bad person. Quite the opposite, in fact, and those that matter will see that. It will allow you to have more meaningful interactions when you do make a commitment and will put you in that rare category of people who can be trusted at their word.

Oh, and once you learn how to say no, your body will thank you as well. After all, you’ve been saying no to its request for rest for a long time.

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