18 Aug 2020

How to say no

There’s a misconception that good manners mean always saying yes and agreeing to favours. Being courteous means making ourselves available and amenable, right?

In fact, the best way of showing respect, to ourselves as well as to others, is by setting clear and consistent boundaries - knowing when to say no, how to refuse favours, and why it’s important to make ourselves unavailable occasionally.

Setting boundaries hasn’t been easy over the last few months. Many of us have been working from home, without formal office hours providing a structure – and, more importantly, an end – to our working day.

We may have felt pulled in all directions – having to fulfil multiple roles, as home teacher, parent AND employee – all at the same time.

But with schools due to return within weeks, and some workplaces gradually returning to the office, perhaps it’s time to re-establish our boundaries and start saying no again. Here’s how:

  • Practise delegating

This could mean asking a colleague to finish off a contract so that you can give your children their supper, or requesting that your spouse does school drop-off to allow you to prepare for a meeting. Delegating doesn’t mean burdening other people, or that you’re lazy. It means you have great management skills, and that you trust (or have taught) others to do a good job.

  • Don’t apologise

Clearly and calmly letting others know that you’ve reached your capacity is nothing to apologise for. Over-promising, missing a deadline, or becoming stressed to the point of taking it out on others, on the other hand...

  • Offer an alternative

If you can’t quite bring yourself to say an outright ‘No’, try suggesting an alternative solution instead: ‘I know a great freelancer who could do that for you’ or, ‘I won’t be able to meet that deadline. How about the following Monday?’

In both cases you have given a positive response while making it clear that you won’t be able to drop everything you are currently doing to help. Offering an alternative solution shows you’re willing to be flexible and gives you greater control of the situation.

  • Switch off

At a time of economic uncertainty, fear for our jobs can lead us to adopt an ‘always on’ approach – checking emails while bathing our children, dialling in to a conference call when we’re supposed to be on annual leave.

But getting your work done within your contracted hours shows that you’re productive and able to manage your time, while also reducing the risk of longer term burn-out. Switching off might mean removing work emails from your phone or remembering to set an Out-of-Office when you’re on leave (stating that you’ll be ‘checking emails intermittently’ doesn’t quite cut it – nominate someone else to deal with enquiries in your absence).

  • Plan time for yourself

Finally, schedule time for yourself – whether that means booking a yoga class or taking your full lunch hour to meet up with a friend. Without dedicated time blocked out in your diary, it’s easy for your own needs to become an afterthought – or to be subsumed altogether.


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