How to say no!

Ever said yes to something and as the words come out of your mouth you're thinking 'why am I saying this?'. Saying 'yes' usually comes from a genuine desire to please and the simple act of saying 'no' is not always that easy. As a mother and woman in medicine, life often presents too many choices, too many opportunities, too many responsibilities and too many demands. Due to underestimations of our time or of the specific request, an apparently easy task then becomes too much or just one too many. Suddenly, you become overwhelmed and over committed. What should you do, flake, or honor your promise but suffer the stressful and guilt-ridden consequences? Calling and withdrawing your commitment, and apologizing for letting them down is one option, but the simplest answer is to avoid the situation in the first place.


MomMD member Mary Bois-Byrne shares her wisdom, "First of all, say "no" simply. Saying "No" can help define who you are - what you are not willing to do! Do not justify or make excuses for saying no to people that you do not have to make justifications to (and that's just about everyone)! Just say no simply and firmly. People respect this. You can always say that you have "another commitment" to soften your "no", but don't go into details....(men rarely do). "Another commitment" can be time to take care of yourself, your relationships, your home, your dog, your car, etc.". She continues to say that "others often respond with respect if you are unapologetic about saying no. If anything, you'll appear active, selective and maybe, just maybe, even wise!"

Helpful tips:

  • Knowing what your priorities and goals are will make it easier to decline tasks that are not helpful or distract from your intended goals and priorities. Establish your goals and priorities for a particular hour, day, week, month or other time period. That way you'll have a clearer understanding of what you can commit to. Bear in mind that you are not saying no to them as a person but only the task they are requesting.
  • Mary suggests saying no "When you're needing time to recharge yourself and your relationships. Say no when what's being asked of you (or offered to you) if it doesn't resonate well in your body. If your gut goes "yuck" or your intuition is telling you no, trust it. Say no when you feel that you are spreading yourself too thin. Saying no helps to prevent and relieve burnout."
    Be honest and direct with both yourself and the person requesting your time. Saying no is your right. Ask yourself 'if I say yes to doing this what won't I be able to do?'. Even if you would really like to do it if one of your goals and priorities suffers it may be best to say no. In this instance, you can honestly say, "that sounds absolutely great and as much as I'd love to, I simply have to say no because...".
  • Keep the answer short, sometimes there is no need for a lengthy justification. If they persist you must be firm and phrase you declination another way, for example "as I already said I can't because...".
  • When in doubt say no at first, you can always change your mind later.
  • Nobody likes to hear the word 'no' when they ask for something, but you can 'cushion the blow' somewhat. If you can, offer another solution or alternative. If you know someone else who can do it more quickly or is more appropriate, suggest their name (and drop them in it)!
  • Be polite, yet firm in your response, even if this person is always asking something or other. Do not build false hopes with feeble responses or a 'definite maybe' like, "I'll try to" knowing full well that you cannot.
  • What about if this request is work related and saying no makes you feel like your job is at threat? You can remind a work colleague or boss that you are "already working on other urgent priorities, such as..." and ask where the new task should rank in these list of priorities. Or say you "can do it but unfortunately the other tasks will not be up to their usual high standard".
    Sometimes despite everything you simply have to say yes. But you can still make it easier for yourself by attaching certain conditions like "I can do this next week" or "I can only give you a half-hour of my time". You can tell them that they "owe you one" and call in the favor when you need it, as well as suggesting ways to plan for this better the next time.
  • Remind yourself that it is better to excel at a few things than be mediocre at many.

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