A day has 24 hours. For you, for Richard Branson and Elon Musk. You have so much to do. Work, meeting friends, Facebooking, sleeping and, if time permits, doing something you are passionate about. Don’t you wish there were more hours in a day? How do some people get more done in 24 hours than the rest of us can in a week!
Turns out that you don’t need more than 24 hours. True, sometimes despite managing time immaculately, you don’t. But that is rare.
How can you do more in a day? The answer lies in developing one ‘skill’ which is important in every phase of life, one which it takes practice to implement it with finesse. It’s especially important at work, because that is where we spend most of our time.
I’m talking about the most difficult, yet empowering skill – saying ‘No’.
Before we get into the how, let’s discuss why saying no is so damn difficult.
Why Saying “No” Is Tough
Man (and woman) is a social animal. We want people to like us, for society to accept us. Part of this phenomenon stems from the desire for validation and approval. Sometimes, we go to dubious lengths to achieve this. Have you noticed that the more someone criticizes others, the harder people try to please him?
Also stemming from this social animal phenomenon is an innate need of social connection and feeling of belonging. According to Vanessa Bohns, “Saying ‘No’ feels threatening to our relationship and that feeling of connectedness.” We worry that saying ‘no’ will change the other person’s view of us, and make her (or him) feel bad. We would rather be strapped to a chair while someone claws their nails on a blackboard than say “no” to others
The truth is that a ‘No’ does hurt feelings. Yes, it is a rejection. But psychologists report that most people don’t take a ‘no’ as badly as we think they will. “Chances are, the consequences of saying ‘no’ are much worse in our heads than in reality”, states Dr. Bohns.
And finally, there is the fear of missing out (popularly called FOMO). Society has conspired against us to disallow the wonderfully protective ‘out of sight, out of mind’ experience. Whether at work or outside it, we are increasingly exposed to things happening around us against our will. Facebook and Instagram start making us feel that we are missing out by not hanging out with friends. Not taking additional tasks offered makes us fear missing out on credit when a project succeeds (if it does). A JWT report stated that 70 percent adults experience FOMO.
So does saying ‘no’ have benefits? You bet.
The Benefits of Saying No
Our willpower works best when we do what we like, and weakens when we do something against it. Ever felt mentally drained after working on something you don’t like for just 30 minutes? And yet, you feel fresh as morning dew after working on something you really like for 2 hours. Right? Saying ‘No’ makes your time meaningful.
So if you want to work on a code instead of hanging out with friends at a pub, say ‘no’ to your friends. They won’t mind. And if you have something more fruitful to pursue at work, say ‘no’ to tasks that lazy colleagues are looking to offload on you.
Here are four compelling benefits you enjoy when you say no:
1. Staying in Control
You, not your friends or colleagues, know what is best for you. Saying ‘no’ to things that you don’t like will let you focus on the ones you do. You will master your life rather than letting it be governed by others.
Refusing tasks you don’t want to do will free up time for those which you want to. Dalai Lama says that doing more of what you like and less of what you don’t makes you happy. And it is happier people who are successful and not vice versa.
3. Being Respected
For your ‘yes’ to mean something, you must say ‘no’ more often. If people realize that you will not refuse because you are a people-pleaser, they will take advantage of it. And you will end up being taken for granted. I’m assuming that’s something you don’t want.
4. Bye Bye, Negative People
“You are the average of the five people that you spend most time with”, said Jim Rohn. In every aspect of life (personal and professional), we are influenced by people closest to us. Whom would you want to spend time with – those who pull you down or those who lift you up? The latter, right? The effect of saying ‘no’ is two-fold. One, you make time for yourself and can focus on what you truly desires. Two, you will identify people who deserve to be in your life. People who want to be with you won’t mind you denying their requests. And those who are offended don’t deserve your time or effort.
5 Steps to Say No Easily
With that done, let’s talk about how you can say ‘no’ to people assertively:
1. Deny the Request
In your mind and words, make it amply clear that you are denying the request, not the person. Look the person in the eye, smile genuinely and explain why you are denying the request without guilt. You can start with “I wish but….” to muffle the impact.
2. Delay the Response
We are impulsive by nature. We often jump the gun only to regret our decisions later. An immediate ‘yes’ to a request may submerge you in work which further adds to your load. Alternately, you may rue saying ‘no’ to something which, in hindsight, was fun and constructive. Take time to make a decision; weigh the pros and cons.
3. Be Firm
Once you make your decision, stick to your guns. Part of effectively saying ‘No’ involves being gently firm once you make up your mind. No arrogance, just firmness. If you get convinced against your will, people will recognize a pattern quickly and use it against you. And you will end up right where you started.
4. Offer an Alternative
You may not like the hotel which your want to eat at. In such cases, offer alternatives. For instance, say “I don’t like the hotel because its service is slow. Why don’t we go to another one instead?” Or when a college asks for help when you are pressed for time, say “I have a deadline to meet. If someone else doesn’t help you with this, come back after [date]. We will work on it together.” See? That makes it easier.
5. Practice First
You can say ‘no’ to people only after you learn to say ‘no’ to yourself. So start with yourself. Refrain from spending on something you don’t need during a sale. Say ‘no’ to whipped cream in your coffee, or avoid taking a cab when you can walk. When you learn to strengthen your will power, saying ‘no’ comes easily.
6. Bonus: Relax
The key to saying ‘no’ without hurting someone is to relax. Start by practicing in front of the mirror. Say ‘no’ a few times. Be audible. Observe your non verbal communication. Does your body stiffen? Does your mouth twitch? Do you frown? These are signs of tension. Regular practice will help you fix them.
What matters more: pleasing people or personal happiness? I hope that you promise yourself today to dedicate a little time for what you enjoy. Choose between what matters and what doesn’t. Say ‘no’ to the latter. As it becomes easier, you will pull away from tasks which don’t contribute to your productivity.