Get Better Results by Saying No

I had to say no last week.

I don’t like saying no. I like saying yes, and being helpful. I want to serve and learn and grow. I want to repay the kindness that has been shown to me countless times.

This would have been an interesting opportunity. I would have enjoyed it, I’m sure. But there are other things I’ve said yes to and they are where I need to spend my time right now, so I had to politely decline.

©iStockPhoto/zwolafasola

©iStockPhoto/zwolafasola

My daughter gives me plenty of practice at saying no. She wants to watch Bambi, go to the park, or eat Cheetos. There is a proper time for each of those, and five minutes before dinner isn’t it. Asking again with a please tacked on doesn’t change that. It always reminds me of the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1–8); like the unjust judge, I will often cave and say yes. I’ve taught her to keep asking.

We’re taught to say yes. It takes a lot of energy (and sometimes endurance) to say no. It’s easier to say yes up front and hope the problem goes away, which it rarely does. Instead, we pile more and more on our plate.

Do we end up being as helpful as we wanted? Not usually. We get stressed out because we are frantically switching from one project to another, trying to keep them all going. We get frustrated because we can’t give the attention we want to the things that are most important to us. We aren’t happy, possibly even depressed. Our health suffers. We end up not being much help at all.

According to Steven R. Covey, the way to say no is to have a deeper yes burning inside you. Remember the goals you’re working towards. Consider the various roles and responsibilities you have. A personal mission statement can help you see how this new opportunity fits in with who you want to be.

Sometimes, the new opportunity will align with your roles, goals, and mission. If it does, you still have to say no—to something else you’ve previously said yes to. A better job comes along, even a change in career. You’re asked to serve on a new committee. You decide to have kids. Every time we say yes to one thing, we’re saying no to a slew of other options.

If the new opportunity doesn’t fit, do both of you a favor and say no. They’ll find someone else who can give the time, energy, and engagement they’re looking for. Sometimes, we can be more helpful by not helping.

The whole point of being productive is to get done the things you have to do so you can do the things you want to do. Learning to say no—pleasantly, with a smile, and without an apology—is one of the most important skills you can learn to protect your productivity.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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