Thanks, but no thanks. - The art of saying no

If there’s anyone who feels compelled to agree to every request, and would rather juggle a million jobs than refuse to help, it would be me. I’ve struggled with this for most of my 20 years, and I continue to battle it every day in the creative industry. Being unable to say no is exhausting and stressful, and many times I’ve seen the quality of my work suffer due to it.

If you feel you are a “people-pleaser,” your self-worth may be depending on the things you do for other people. You may believe that saying no is selfish and have a fear of letting people down. You might even have a fear of being disliked, criticized or risking a friendship — in this case, a business relationship. Saying “no” is not the equivalent of flipping a giant middle finger.

A few useful tips for learning the art of saying no:

  1. Be a straight-shooter

Keep it simple; you don’t have to explain yourself. Use phrases like “Thank you for thinking of me, but I don’t think I have the time” or “I’m sorry, I’m not sure our company is the best fit for this project right now.” The key is confidence — be strong in your body language and do not over-apologize.

2. Pump the brakes

Avoid the pressure of immediately saying ‘yes’ by saying “I’ll get back to you shortly.” This isn’t an opportunity to run away from your problems or client confrontation, but this will give you time to consider your options. Being able to think through it on your own time gives you the chance to say no with greater confidence.

3. Compromise

Only do this if you want to agree with the request but have limited time or ability to do it. Suggest a couple alternatives to suit the needs of both sides. If you really want to or need to say no, avoid compromising entirely.

4. Don’t catch the feels

Don’t feel guilty. It’s important to remember you’re turning down a request, not a person. It’s easy to get wrapped into a client or business emotionally. Internal friendships are also inevitable. Respectfully turning down a request is not going to sever a relationship. Clients and colleagues will usually understand that it is your right to say no, just as it is their right to ask the project or task.

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