Even when we want to say no to weekend plans, or a date, or a work obligation, we often find ourselves saying yes out of fear of upsetting the other person.
But when turning down an offer would allow us to do something far more important with our time, it is important to know how to to gracefully say "no."
On Tim Ferriss’ podcast The Tim Ferriss Show, he showcased a chapter from Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, in which McKeown describes why we struggle to say no, and how to change your behaviour.
According to McKeown, who began the chapter referencing Rosa Parks’ courageous no, “The right no spoken at the right time can change the course of history.”
However, we all struggle to say no - as we have good reasons to fear doing so.
In addition to worrying about ruining a relationship, we also worry about missing out on something, or disappointing someone.
This is partly because of normative conformity, or the desire to fit in, according to McKeown, who said that humans have an “innate fear of social awkwardness.”
The other reason we may not say no is because we're bad at deciding which tasks are essential and which ones are optional.
What we fail to see, however, are the benefits of gracefully saying no, according to McKeown, which includes increased respect.
“People respect and admire those who can say no gracefully,” said McKeown - as it shows other people the value of your time.
If you refuse to commit to obligations that will take you away from doing the things you need to do, it sends a message that will ultimately result in respect.
McKeown also points out that “a clear no can be more graceful than a non-committal yes,” which can waste everyone’s time.
To gracefully say no, McKeown advises first separating the decision from the relationship.
While the other person may be upset or angry or disappointed initially, it will only have a short-term impact on your relationship.
“It is not the same as denying the person,” he said. “Only when we separate can we make a clear decision.”
Then McKeown offers eight responses for declining, apart from saying an outright no.
- Awkward pause. "Instead of being threatened by an awkward pause, own it.” The seconds of silence will allow you to contemplate whether this is actually something you want to say yes to or you are doing it out of societal obligations.
- Soft no or the “No, but…” Instead offer something else.
- Let me check my calendar and get back to you. Allows you to time to craft a no.
- Email bounce backs. “Why limit automated responses to just vacation and holidays?”
- “Yes, what should I de-prioritise?” By letting the other person know that the commitment would mean you would have to compromise work on something else, it may cause them to rethink their request.
- Say it with humour "Do you want to run a marathon with me?" "Nope”
- You are welcome to X, I am willing to Y. Helps navigate a request that you want to support somewhat but tells the other person what you are not willing to do. It also expresses a respect for the other person’s ability to choose.
- I can’t do it but X might be interested.
Overall, while saying yes might make us feel better in the moment, it will ultimately jeopardise our happiness in the long run - causing us to feel resentment.
Rather than focusing on what would benefit someone else, saying no benefits you - and frees up time that would otherwise be spent doing something you don't want to do.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies