There’s just so much going on with you these days. It’s either you’re working on a fantastic new project, you’re already overcommitted or you just want to rest. Imagine you’re getting ready to execute your plans and start the next phase of your idea but your best friend has just asked you to be a part of her new community service project, or your boss has just added a whole new assignment to your already loaded workload. You’re so confused and angry, and you don’t know how say no without feeling guilty. ‘Oh my God what do I do?!’
Well, Greg McKeown wants you to understand these three things.
- You have a choice and a right to say no to things you don’t want.
- Everything in this world is nonessential and so you must always explore and eliminate the many good things so you can focus only on the few, vital, great things.
- Always opt for ‘less but better.’ Focus and invest your energy on less pursuits but give them your best shots.
McKeown in his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less has listed 8 different ways in which you can gracefully turn down requests.
So here are the 8 fantastic and essentialist ways in which writers and social-do-gooders can say no without feeling guilty, this 2019.
Your “No” Repertoire
- The awkward pause. According to McKeown, “Instead of being controlled by the threat of an awkward silence, own it. Use it as a tool. When a request comes to you (obviously this works only in person), just pause for a moment. Count to three before delivering your verdict. Or if you get a bit more bold, simply wait for the other person to fill the void.”
- The soft “no” (or the “no but”). In these 10 revealing ways to say no without feeling guilty, a specific example is given on how to give alternatives when refusing a request. The soft no simply shows that you wouldn’t accept a request but nonetheless you’re offering an alternative solution. An example which McKeown gives is this: “I am consumed with writing my book right now 🙂 But I would love to get together once the book is finished. Let me know if we can get together towards the end of the summer.”
- “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” This is an easy way to buy yourself time to figure out if you really have time on your schedule to accept a new request, and it buys you even more time to construct a more graceful “I’m sorry I can’t do it” speech to offer the other person.
- Use e-mail bouncebacks. E-mail bouncebacks are simply auto responses which people receive immediately they send you an email. An example of an email bounceback is this: “Hello there! I am currently away on xxx event and I will have limited access to my email within this period. If you have any urgent requests, I am afraid I might not be available to assist you while I am away, but I will be back by xxx date. Cheers.”
- Say, “Yes. What should I deprioritize?” McKeown writes that, “saying no to a senior leader at work is almost unthinkable, even laughable, for many people. However, when saying yes is going to compromise your ability to make the highest level of contribution to your work, it is also your obligation. In this case it is not only reasonable to say no, it is essential. One effective way to do that is to remind your superiors what you would be neglecting if you said yes and force them to grapple with the trade-off.
For example, if your manager comes to you and asks you to do X, you can respond with ‘Yes, I’m happy to make this the priority. Which of these other projects should I deprioritize to pay attention to this new project?’ Or simply say, ‘I would want to do a great job, and given my other commitments I wouldn’t be able to do a job I was proud of if I took this on.’
- Say no with humour. This is especially good if the person in request is a close friend or an acquaintance of yours. “You want me to drive you to work? Haha! Nah! That’s not possible, you know that I really can’t.”
- Use the words “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.” An example directly quoted off the essentialist book is to say, “You are welcome to borrow my car. I am willing to make sure the keys are here for you.” By this you are also saying, “I won’t be able to drive you.” You are saying what you will not do, but you are couching it in terms of what you are willing to do.
- “I can’t do it, but X might be interested.” This is an absolutely great example! When you can’t offer your services to someone, you can point them out to someone else who might be able to give them better assistance, saving you the stress of actually doing the work yourself.
“When Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian professor most well known for his work on “flow,” reached out to interview a series of creative individuals for a book he was writing on creativity, Drucker’s response was interesting enough to Mihaly that he quoted it verbatim:
“I am greatly honored and flattered by your kind letter of February 14th—for I have admired you and your work for many years, and I have learned much from it. But, my dear Professor Csikszentmihalyi, I am afraid I have to disappoint you. I could not possibly answer your questions. I am told I am creative—I don’t know what that means.… I just keep on plodding.… I hope you will not think me presumptuous or rude if I say that one of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours—productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.”
With these 8 points and more, always remember that when you say no, there could be a short impact on your relationship with the person in request, but it saves you from future regret especially if you are not enthusiastic on doing the task. On the long run, saying no breeds respect and tells others that you value your time and your priorities.
(Excerpts from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Mckeown, Greg)
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