I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a “yes” person. Sometimes it comes from a healthy place. I love spending time with people, having fun, and trying new things. But sometimes I say yes when I should say no out of a sense of obligation or guilt, or because I have this need to be the “hero” and save the day.
You know what happens next, right? When we say yes when we should say no, we end up resenting our commitments later. We feel exhausted, spread thin and—eventually—burnt out.
But here’s the deal, y’all: You don’t just have the right to say no—you have the responsibility to.
You can’t be a truly effective business owner, leader, friend, spouse or parent without disappointing others. Plus, your word is your integrity. An honest no is always better than a dishonest yes. Whatever your situation looks like, I want to share six tips with you that have helped me think things through, reduce my stress and guilt, and stand my ground.
1. Know What’s Most Important to You
Saying no starts with knowing your values and priorities, especially for the specific season you’re in. When you give time and energy to things that aren’t important to you, you’ll feel stressed and out of balance. And on the flip side, when you say yes to things that are aligned with your values, you’ll experience a sense of peace and fulfillment, knowing your time is well spent.
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Start prioritizing your values by asking this question: What is most important to me? List about 10 things and then keep that list somewhere visible to remind you that everything in your life is not equal.
Use that list as a decision-making filter. For example, if you get asked to lead a new committee at work, but one of your current values is to have more time with your kids at home, then you know your answer: no!
2. Set Boundaries
Once you know your values, you’ve got to be intentional about protecting them. On a practical level, this looks like setting boundaries, or rules, for how you spend your time and energy. I know . . . this doesn’t sound fun, but boundaries are actually incredibly freeing. They keep you from being overcommitted and way too busy.
For example, if you’re trying to prioritize getting better sleep, you could set a bedtime for yourself of 9:30 on weeknights. Then, when a friend invites you last-minute to go to a concert on a Thursday evening, you know you need to say no because it’s going to violate that boundary.
And by the way, setting boundaries isn’t selfish. It’s self-preservation and it’s smart. When you don’t have boundaries, you end up going places you don’t want to go. You spend money you don’t have. Your commitments manage you, instead of you managing them.
In our communities, businesses and relationships, we’re so busy trying to accommodate everyone that we spend all of our time trying to catch a tidal wave in a teacup, and in the process, we lose sight of the vision and passion and purpose for our own lives! Boundaries help you recognize the difference between other people’s priorities and yours.
3. Talk Through Your Decision with a Friend
If you’re having a hard time saying no to an opportunity or obligation, it helps to process your thoughts with someone you can trust. For me, I go to my husband, Matt. We regularly talk about our priorities for the season we’re in. He’s my sounding board when I’m trying to make decisions about work or the kids or my responsibilities.
Whether it’s your spouse or a sibling or a good friend, have someone you can rely on to listen well, ask good questions, and shoot you straight. A good friend can act as a mirror to reflect your thoughts and feelings back to you.
Remember, though: It’s up to you to own your decision to say no. Get advice and insight from others, but don’t rely on them to do the uncomfortable work for you.
4. Reject Guilt
Never ever say yes out of a sense of guilt. Ever. Guilt is not a good motivator. It will only lead you to frustration and resentment. And even if you try to put on a smile and act like you’re enjoying yourself, other people will pick up on how you’re feeling.
People pleasing, chasing approval and “feeling bad about saying no” are all ways we guilt-trip ourselves into commitments that don’t align with our values. If and when you feel guilt creeping up when you’re trying to make a decision, pay attention to that feeling. Don’t let it drive you to something you don’t want to do.
5. Be kind and Clear When You Respond
We have this saying here at Ramsey: To be unclear is to be unkind. Sometimes we halfway commit to invitations or opportunities because we don’t want to disappoint the person who asked us. We say things like, “I’ll see if I can make it work” or “Let me get back to you” or “That sounds fun, maybe!”
Sometimes you do need to check your calendar, and it’s okay to “think about it.” But if you know right then that you can’t make it, or don’t want to make it, say so. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If you’re organizing something, you’d rather get an accurate RSVP, right? Be kind to the person who’s inviting you by communicating clearly.
6. Use a Script to Say NO
It may sound silly, but you can script out how you will say no ahead of time. When you do this, it helps make the conversation much smoother.
For example, when I get asked to go to coffee to “pick my brain,” I have a scripted answer. I don’t have to struggle with how to politely decline every single time, because I have a go-to response.
What scripts do you need to write? Maybe your boss is always asking you to take on extra work, and you need to plan what you’ll say the next time it happens. Maybe you’re in a season where all of your friends are having babies, and you don’t have the time or money to attend every shower, so you want to find a polite way to opt out.
It might help to think about writing scripts for different categories of your life, like these:
- Social invitations
- Volunteer work
- Work requests
- Family favors
- Everything else
Remember: Every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. The goal for all of us should be to make sure we’re turning down the right people in the right way. After all, an honest no is always better than a dishonest yes!
And if you're tired of feeling like you never have enough time, I want you to read my book, Take Back Your Time. It will help you prioritize and say no to what doesn't matter, walk you through each of the things you do want to accomplish, and schedule everything perfectly into place. It's like having me as your personal time management coach.