When to say no

Sometimes it's tough to determine which activities deserve your time and attention. Use these strategies to evaluate obligations — and opportunities — that come your way.

  • Focus on what matters most. Examine your obligations and priorities before making any new commitments. Ask yourself if the new commitment is important to you. If it's something you feel strongly about, by all means do it. If not, take a pass.
  • Weigh the yes-to-stress ratio. Is the new activity you're considering a short- or long-term commitment? For example, making a batch of cookies for the school bake sale will take far less time than heading up the school fundraising committee. Don't say yes if it will mean months of added stress. Instead, look for other ways to pitch in.
  • Take guilt out of the equation. Don't agree to a request you would rather decline out of guilt or obligation. Doing so will likely lead to additional stress and resentment.
  • Sleep on it. Are you tempted by a friend's invitation to volunteer at your old alma mater or to join a weekly golf league? Before you respond, take a day to think about the request and how it fits in with your current commitments. If you can't sleep on it, at least take the time to think the request through before answering.

How to say no

No. Nope. Nah. See how simple it is to say one little word, allowing you to take a pass on tasks that don't make the cut? Of course, there will be times when it's just not that easy. Here are some things to keep in mind when you need to say no:

  • Say no. The word "no" has power. Don't be afraid to use it. Be careful about using wimpy substitute phrases, such as "I'm not sure" or "I don't think I can." These can be interpreted to mean that you might say yes later.
  • Be brief. State your reason for refusing the request, but don't go on about it. Avoid elaborate justifications or explanations.
  • Be honest. Don't fabricate reasons to get out of an obligation. The truth is always the best way to turn down a friend, family member or co-worker.
  • Be respectful. Many good causes land at your door, and it can be tough to turn them down. Complimenting the group's effort while saying that you can't commit shows that you respect what they're trying to accomplish.
  • Be ready to repeat. You may need to refuse a request several times before the other person accepts your response. When that happens, just hit the replay button. Calmly repeat your no, with or without your original rationale, as needed.

Saying no won't be easy if you're used to saying yes all the time. But learning to say no is an important part of simplifying your life and managing your stress. And with practice, you may find saying no gets easier.

Jul. 23, 2013 See more In-depth