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What Do You Say When No Is The Right Answer?

Are your on the road to over-commitment? Here you’ll find tips to regain control.

It’s easy to say yes.  We’ve done it all our lives.  Besides, what else are we supposed to say when someone asks us to do, well, whatever it is they’ll be asking you to do?

It’s in our nature to add more and more to our list of commitments.  There comes a day, however, when we’re suddenly overwhelmed.  It’s hard to predict what it is that will tip the scales and push us into that exhausted over-committed zone.  Worst of all, once we’re over-committed, we also lose perspective.  That’s when it is so much harder to see how to regain balance.  Instead, we’re at wits end, exhausted from our burden-laden plate.

Sometimes it helps to be very graphic.  An actual image can be surprising and informative.  That’s what this exercise is designed to do, to help you see yourself balancing the many facets of your life. 

Picture a seesaw.  Pick a side and see yourself sitting on that side of the seesaw.  Remember a few things while you are on that seesaw.  First, remember to smile and take a cleansing breath.

Next, remember to think about you.  You get 24 hours each and every day, the same as everyone else.  Now, in those 24 hours, you’ll need some rest.  Hopefully, it’s 8-hours of rest so you can waken refreshed for the next 24.  Whatever the number, your waking hours are yours.  There you are on one side of the seesaw with about 16 hours, deciding how to apportion them for your day.

On the other side of the seesaw sits your commitments.  See them.  See you with your sixteen hours on one side of the seesaw while your life commitments are on the other side.  Is there a balance?  Do your commitments throw you out of balance?  Let’s look at some life details to get a better picture.

Basic commitments, the bare necessities. 

There are things we must have in our lives.  They are the basics to life.  These, of course, take up a large share of the seat on the other side of the seesaw.  Look at them squarely, making certain that each rightfully belongs to your core commitments.

  • The important people in your life.  Relationships are crucial in our lives; we are social beings.  Your core commitments will include those individuals who are most important in your life.  They may be children, a spouse or partner and other family members or friend.  
  • The financial necessities including work, working relationships and the commute.  
  • Your personal well-being.  Here consider your personal passions as well as personal care.  Included here might be exercise, hobbies, spiritual practice, sports and more.  
  • The operating details of life.  These include transportation, household chores, even meals.

Okay, now upload your bare necessity core commitments onto the other side of the seesaw.  There they are.  Is there a balance?  You and your 16 hours are on one side of the seesaw and the basics of your life are on the other. 

If there is already an over-weighted imbalance, judiciously consider all your core commitments.  What changes will be necessary? 

If there’s an imbalance that shows you can take on more than your core commitments, fabulous. 

Fine-tuning your ability to say no when the right answer is no.

First, when asked to add a commitment to your life, consider the source.  Who or what is doing the asking.  So many askers are skilled at couching their request in the most favorable light.  Is it something you like doing?  Is it an organization or person you admire?  Does the commitment add something to your life?  Consider whether the asker is influencing your decision.  Think of how the actual commitment fits into your life and time. 

Sort out the plusses and minuses before you respond.  See yourself back on the seesaw.  What will it feel like if you add the commitment to its side?  Will you remain in balance?

Next, take your time with your decision.  Often, the person making the ask does so with energy and a positive rationale.  Even when that’s not the case, give yourself the gift of time for reflection.  You’ll not just reach the right answer; you’ll also be able to spell out the reasons for your decision.  It’s perfectly appropriate to say, “That’s very interesting.  Thank you for thinking of me.  I’ll need to take some time (a moment) to consider your request.  I’ll let you know (name when you’ll respond).”

You don’t have to give your reasons for your response.  There are times when a personal preference or need prevents us from saying yes.  Other times, there may be personal reason for saying yes.  The fact is, if it is personal and you’d prefer not to share the reasoning, then don’t.

What do you say whether saying yes or no.  First, remember to remain true to yourself.  As we’ve already agreed, it’s not necessary to reveal anything about your reasons. 

It is a good idea to acknowledge the person who asked.  You can tell them you are honored (or pleased) that they thought of you.  You can say that you enjoyed considering their request.

If you chose to do so, you can refer to timing, that the timing is or is not quite right for you.  If it is true, you might add that another time would be better.  You might even spell out when – if that is true.  Don’t set yourself up for another ask when you know in your heart you’ll never say yes.

If your answer is no, it is very appropriate to simply thank the asker for thinking of you but it is not something you will be able to take on.  There is no reason to say more.  You can say it graciously and with a smile.  Practice it.  Thank you for thinking of me, I am honored, but it’s not something I can take on.  Make it a statement. 

The asker should respect your decision.  If, however, they pursue the subject, again, smile and restate what you’ve said, “Really, I am pleased you thought of me but I cannot do it.”