Learn to say ‘NO’, make life simpler

Prasanth Aby Thomas
Published: November 2014

One of the most characteristic features of today’s busy life is that none of us seem to have time for everything that we want to do. Regardless of where you work, or even how many hours you work, the arrival of the digital world has toppled the conventional work-life balance and we increasingly see people succumbing to the pressures of time management.

Thankfully, man’s biggest asset is his ability to adapt himself to the changing environments. This is the basis of the concept of evolution and is the reason we are still alive even after the dinosaurs have long disappeared.

But the unfortunate part is that the last fifty or so years of the history of mankind has seen more changes at the most rapid pace than all our time on earth combined. This has posed a considerable challenge to our evolution-friendly instincts since despite the fact that we will adjust, the pace is too quick for the natural system to comprehend. But as we force ourselves to continue in this path, regularly whipping ourselves to work harder and faster, it is absolutely essential to pause and have a look at how we can find more balance in our lives.

One simple solution that I want to introduce today is the courage to say ‘no’ when necessary.  If we say yes to everything, we will not have time to focus on what is important for us, in turn sacrificing the quality of our work as well life.

When we don’t deliver on our promises we will disappoint others. The more tasks you take in the less energy and time you have in hand to do what is to be done and this increase our stress level and makes us lose the respect of those around us. And perhaps more importantly, we create confusion around our personal brand. We project an image of incompetence, where it should not be. Saying yes to a focused set of requests and no to others helps build clarity and consistency in personal branding.

Knowing when to say ‘no’ is one of the most important aspects of management that every human being should be trained in. As advantages of having this knowledge I can present three points here:

  1. Saying the negative word gives you the option to prioritize and focus on what is important. To say no, you need to recognise those matters that are in your ‘yes’ list – those that are crucial to your work and life. By deciding what is important to you, you know which things are to be in your ‘no’ list.
  2. The power to say no gives you a sense of control. According to certain studies one of the most crucial reasons for anxiety and stress related illnesses is that people feel out of control with situations and people. Of course, it is not humanly possible to be in control of everything and everyone and it is important that we all learn to know when to let go of things.
  3. When you say ‘no’ people around you understand that you value the work that you do and people will respect you for it. This will encourage people to trust you more and thus ensure more success.

However, having said all this, I have to agree with many people who might be thinking how hard it is to say no. Yes, I agree, it is not easy to say that you cannot help someone when they come asking. There are so many things at stake, you worry what the other person will think of you, or what if you need their help later and have to ask them etc. Also many a time we feel that a request deserves to be honoured but due to the pressure you are under, you cannot personally do anything for it. The good news is that there are ways, we can use certain techniques to minimise these worries and make the recipient feel less unhappy about your answer.

  1. Offer alternatives: When someone asks for your help and you are not in a position to offer it, you should decline, but you can then give an alternative, suggest someone else who might be able to help them, or suggest some way in which they can help themselves. This is especially handy if you have people working under you to whom you can delegate work. If you think that a request for help needs to be met, but you certainly do not have the time for it, pass it on to your subordinate without disturbing his normal activities.
  2. Compromise: Offer to go half way. “No, I won’t do that, but I will do this instead.” It’s not always yes or no. You could give something in between. You might want to discuss the options you think are better, propose alternatives or negotiate the scope of the request.
  3. Delay: “No, I can’t do it right now, but I may be able to at some other time” No can come in the form of “I am too busy right now” or “I think it can wait,” or a combination of the two. Learning to work on the deadlines and plan jobs beforehand is useful when your plate is already full and you are starting to feel a sense of overwhelm. But do not take this approach if you know that you will not have the time even at a later period.

These approaches can help you show that you are indeed willing to help the person and if you had time you would do it. This would also make you feel less guilty and further would minimise burning bridges. But one crucial point to remember here is that never offer the above mentioned options unless you feel that there is a need to. If you feel that you do not want to spend time an energy on a request, then feel free to say an outright no, although just remember to put it in polite wording.