4 ways to become better at saying ‘NO’

February 24, 2021


‘I know that I should have taken the time to reflect and prep for that conversation, but my day was just choc-a-bloc with meetings’. 

That was the start of a good conversation last weekend, when a friend and I were walking around a lake in her neighborhood. When she accepted other people’s priorities, she put their needs above her own, leaving her feeling behind on things and no longer in control of her agenda.  

Does this happen to you? That you feel the day gets away with you and before you know it you are at the end of your workday with an unsatisfactory feeling that you didn’t finish what you wanted to? Feeling slightly guilty that you didn’t take the proper time to prepare for something?

A lot of this has to do with the ability to say no. ‘No’ to that meeting request that comes in, because you really need to prepare for the meeting after. ‘No’ to that project that is being offered to you, that would really ‘impress the boss’. Even ‘no’ to that friend that wants to visit on a day that doesn’t really suit you.

Saying no is hard to do and that is why we offer you four practical tips that will help you become better at saying-no. 

1. Make a NOT-to-do list. That is a funky way of being very intentional about what your priorities are. When a request comes in, check it against your priorities and your NOT-to do list. If it makes the priorities list – is it urgent? If not – postpone to the week after. Because let’s be honest – in most cases no one is going to die from postponing a meeting with 5 working days.  

2. Physically block time with yourself. Making a NOT-to-do list also involves blocking time with yourself during the week to get stuff done and to prep. Because preparing is ALSO working. The beauty is that once those blocks are in, work will morph around it and presto – you have time to work and think. Easier to say no when you already have something planned!  

3. Whilst you have that time for work and prep blocked anyway – think about why you are afraid to say no. Is it fear if rejection? Do you really think it is ok for people to reject you when you indicate boundaries? If you feel you can’t say no, can you say ‘maybe if’? (aka can you swap this project out for another?). Is it fear of missing out? There will likely be loads of assumptions in your head about what the other person is thinking but let’s be honest – you won’t know for sure until you ask. 

4. If all of the above fails, just turn that frown upside down! What we mean with that is reframing. Instead of saying no to something you are actually saying yes to something else. Yes to healthy boundaries. Yes to being home in time for dinner with the kids. Yes to feeling you really did things well at the end of the day.

Which boundaries do you need to be clearer about? 

PS: Whilst writing this blog I thought back to that time when I had already started my own company but was still working for Shell. I had taken my own medicine and had made my to do and NOT-to do list. On the NOT-to-do list was ‘accepting additional (project) work that doesn’t give me something for my own company in the form of contacts, experience or learning.’ And this is when the universe tested me to the limit. I got a request to do a project directly for the Shell CEO. As I had just been trained in a certain way of change management that Shell was adopting, I replied saying I would only do it if I could use that. I wanted to fall in love with the problem instead of falling in love with the solution (which the project team had done – they wanted me to execute things in a certain way – I wanted to solve the problem and realized we didn’t know how to do that yet)

I had to say no. I tell you, that was one of my hardest no’s. It wasn’t out of fear that I wanted to say yes. For me it was about being able to show someone ‘up there’ what I could do if I would be liberated enough to let me do my thing. A part of me still thought I could change Shell’s culture… Which, if I looked deep in my heart I wouldn’t be able to do. Working up to the no was hard. But I tell you, after the no had left my mouth I felt an enormous amount of relief. The person asking me to do the project said it was ‘good for my career’ to say yes. That to me felt plain manipulative. So the no stayed. I had stuck to my plan. I had invested in me, and I had been clear about my boundaries. Best decision EVER. 

The WOYT program will teach you more about saying no, and discovering what healthy boundaries are and how to stick to them. Meet us there?

This is where we share how we Work On Our Terms ourselves. We share the strategies as we apply them in real time, share our free mini-trainings, our most loved books, meditations, obsessions, fresh off the press tips and tricks, and behind-the-scenes snapshots of our weird, wonderful life.

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