Women have long been raised to be helpers and givers. Yes, we’ve made great strides in business and culture, but at our core, we are generally more nurturing than our male counterparts. This characteristic can serve us well, however, it can also be a giant hurdle in our ability to say “No.”
Today, most women protest that they have too much on their proverbial plate. Between juggling responsibilities at home and work, a 24-hour day is simply not long enough. However, cutting out some of our tasks can be daunting, simply because we’d either have to decline a request for help, or we’d have to relinquish a particular area of responsibility to someone else.
We don’t want to appear lazy or unwilling to lend a hand, and often the guilt we experience by denying a plea for help can be more agonizing than performing the actual task. But saying “No” does not have to be intimidating; it is often liberating and empowering. Declining with grace, however, is a learned art; since if said without forethought it can come off as abrasive or rude.
Before you master the art of the “No” you must learn to set personal boundaries and preserve your sense of self-respect. You should value your time and your physical and mental health enough to learn when something, even if it is a noble chore, will infringe upon your overall wellbeing. We rob our families and ourselves of precious resources when we become overextended.
The operative key in saying “No” is doing so with a persuasive voice. Instead of saying “I’m not sure I’ll be able to get to that,” try “My time is already devoted to other commitments and I just don’t have the time necessary to do the job justice.” Lay aside meekness and acquiescence; choose to be convincing and unwavering. If challenged, or made to feel guilty, you can disagree without being disagreeable: simply say, “I would like to help you, but I have to stick to my better judgment about what is realistic for my time schedule.”
Some women prefer the stalling technique: “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.” This can sometimes be effective — because when you come back with a “No,” it can show that you have taken the time to thoughtfully consider whether your participation is realistic. This lends your refusal more credibility.
Saying “No” can be tricky when a boss or a superior at the office makes the demand. After all, you have been hired to do a job that may entail more work than you can reasonably do in a given time frame. Sometimes a particular deadline or goal necessitates extra time, and the assignment must slip into your priority load. But, if continual requests for more of your time and effort become too frequent or cumbersome, you can still preserve your sanity by approaching your boss with one of the following three techniques:
- Offer a solution-based alternative. Determine what works best for your personal lifestyle, and offer that as an alternative. For example, instead of staying late to complete a job, offer to take it home and work on it over the weekend.
- Request a private meeting with your boss and express your desire to perform well, but explain the fact that your limits are being overextended. Propose a discussion as to how to lighten the load and make it more realistic.
- Simply state that you may not be the best person to perform the duty that you have been asked to do by saying, “I don’t believe I am the most qualified for this assignment and I don’t want to do a mediocre job.”
Saying no to a sensitive or needy friend can also be challenging. We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, particularly if they are moody or unpredictable to begin with. But again, boundaries must reign. We can decline a request for dinner or coffee, but offer an alternative: “I am stretched thin at the moment and can’t take the time to get together, but I am able to meet with you for lunch in two weeks.”
You may be asked to perform a task that defies your moral or spiritual convictions. Stating, “No, I’m not comfortable with that,” will reveal your sense of honor and passion, while enabling you to decline the plea.
Strong communicators are taken more seriously than others who have a tendency to waver on a decision. Women who are credible and compelling are generally inclined to state a decision and stick to it. If you are unable to take on another work or volunteer project, say so with conviction. Otherwise, your lack of resistance will simply make you resentful and will negatively affect your performance anyway. In addition, your other priorities will suffer simply because you have become spread too thin and “the juggle” becomes a greater burden.
Saying “No” actually becomes easier with practice; once you learn that you can honor your boundaries and preserve your sanity by not taking on one more thing, you will gain more confidence in judging your limitations in the future. Plus, you’ll learn that people will still like and respect you even when you do say “No!”