“How to say no” is something that’s on my list of things to learn this year. If you’ve been reading Clo Bare for a minute, you know that this is something I’ve struggled with since… well… the beginning of time. Luckily– I’m in good company. When you Google “How to say no”, there are 4.6 billion results with pages after pages detailing why people say no, how to start saying now, and the best 10 ways to ultimately say a word that is a sentence in of itself: “No.” Yet so many of us still struggle with this tiny one syllable word.
Why? Because we’re people pleaser’s and we don’t want to be rude.
Maybe we’re afraid people won’t want to be our friends anymore if we say “no” too many times.
Perhaps it’s because we have FOMO and we don’t want to say “no” to something that could be the next big thing.
I struggle with all the above.
Why I Say Yes and Why I Want to Start Saying No
“Yes” is my go-to response (See Enneagram 3) because I like being reliable and the person that people know will be there for them when they need something, big or small. At work, I’m “yes, and…” because I like knowing I’m valuable in this way. No matter what the task, I’ll figure out how to get it done even if it’s outside my job description and even if it’s coming in addition to the other million things on my plate.
But for me to achieve the things I want to achieve in life? I need to get better at saying no.
Plain and simple.
There’s only a limited amount of time in a day, week, LIFE and while I could decide to push aside my wants and needs to please others and not miss out– I’d have to say “no” to the things I want in life.
Like doubling Clo Bare’s reach in 2020. Or starting a podcast, expanding Chicago Boss Babes, finishing up writing that book, and starting my digital marketing side-hustle. Not to mention going to the gym, cooking dinner and you know, sleeping.
When we look at it as a whole, I have a few options here to accomplish all this:
- I can defer some of these things to future goals.
- I can stop sleeping.
- Or I can start saying “no” to things that I don’t want to say “HELL YES” to.
You know– I’m not ready to defer these yet. I don’t want to stop sleeping. So, that leaves me with option three. Time to learn how to say no instead of just wishing I could say no.
Why I’ve Failed at Saying No in the Past
Before we dive into how to say no based on the top three podcast episodes search results, let’s talk about why I’ve failed so poorly at saying “no” in the past. If we don’t know how we’ve been unsuccessful (or failed) in the past, how can we do better in the future, right?
I think the number one reason I have failed in the past is because I didn’t have a plan. My only plan was “I’m just like, gonna say ‘no’ more and hope things work out. I need a break.” That never really worked out because instead of saying “no” in a definitive way, often I’d kick the can down the road. Often the conversation goes as follows:
Saying No by Kicking the Can Down the Road: Exhibit A
Clo Bare: “I can’t this week, I’m too busy!”
Person I Need to Say “No” To: “Well how about the following week?”
Clo Bare: “Umm, yeah, that should work! Sure!”
(Fast forward to that week where Clo Bare has had every evening jam-packed with a social, work or networking event and it comes to the night where I’m supposed to be doing the thing I told the person I should’ve said “no” to.)
Clo Bare: “I’m so sorry to have to do this, but something came up. I’m so sorry but I have to cancel. Hopefully, I’ll be able to (FILL IN THE BLANK) next time!”
Person I Should’ve Said No To: “No worries! <insert passive-aggressive emoji>”
Now “person I should have said no to” is more annoyed than had I just said NO from the very beginning and I feel guilty.
Not exactly a win-win situation yeah? But it was my general go-to for all things that I needed to say “no” to in the past.
FOMO and Saying “No” to Things I Want to Do
I think I also struggle to say no because often, I want to say yes! I love spending time with my friends and doing fun activities and just hanging out– but I have to limit those things to accomplish what I’ve set out for myself. Cause sometimes I want those things more in the long run.
For more on how to say no to a nice request– check out post by Saya Hillman, founder of Chicago-based Mac & Cheese Productions, about “How to Say No to a Nice Request“.
How to Say No… This Time Around
Now, to prepare myself for a year of saying “No” I decided to do my research by listening to the top three results when I searched for a podcast on “How to Say No”:
- “Tribe of Mentors: How to Say No” with host Tim Ferriss
- “Personal Excellence Podcast: How to Say No” with host Celestine Chau
- “Nobody Panic: How to Say No” with hosts Tessa Coates and Stevie Martin
I listened to all three so you don’t have to, and here are the top takeaways from each one.
Tribe of Mentors: How to Say No
First episode in the search results? An episode by Tim Ferriss, author of “4-Hour Work Week” and many other books and blogs about hacking the human experience. Tim Ferriss is the productivity guru of our time, and while I don’t jive with everything he’s spinning, I do enjoy his opinions on productivity. And learning how to say no is a productivity-related topic.
Tim approached this episode by reading various rejection letters he’d received from authors and business owners when he’d reached out to them to see if they’d be willing to participate in an interview for his new book: Tribe of Mentors. They all graciously said “no” and their responses were so good, Tim decided to add them to the book and talk about them in this podcast episode.
Definitely enjoyable to listen to, and great examples of how we can say no without being dicks about it and also without putting out the flame of excitement of the person asking.
These letters focus mainly on saying no to a business request or opportunity, but I do think several of them can be applied to other life scenarios. Here are my key takeaways from the episode:
Key Takeaways from Tribe of Mentor’s How to Say No
1. Compliment the person’s request
Every single one of the letters talked about what a great idea Tim’s book was! They sounded like they wanted to be part of it but due to extenuating circumstances had to decline. I liked how Wendy MacNaughton, a New York Times Best Selling Illustrator phrased it:
“So, while I really wanted to do this with you, I respect you and your work, and I’m honored that you’d ask me to participate. And as capital S stupid as it is for me professionally not to do it, I’m going to have to say thank you, but … I’ve got to pass… And really, thank you so much for your interest. I’ll be kicking myself when the book comes out. Wendy.”
Why It’s Good
DAH! SO GOOD! SO GOOD! She tells him how much she appreciates his work and how she’ll surely be kicking herself when the book comes out– like it pains her to say no.
I relate to this so much because I feel that. I do feel literal pain sometimes when I want to say yes BUT I need to say no to focus on other aspects of my life. It’s hard to say no when you want to do something. In this letter, Wendy said she’d taken a step back from her career to enjoy doing what she loved to do most– drawing without deadlines.
And to honor that? She had to say “no” to something she truly wanted to do.
I think the compliment works so well here because it makes the requester feel good about the “no” and it also feels authentic when paired up with her long explanation on why she can’t. This works in social situations as well– the “no” is always easier to take when you tell someone how awesome their request sounds.
2. “I’ve thought carefully about this”
In a letter from Danny Meyer, founder, and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group (founders of Shake Shack), Danny declines very concisely and politely. The important key phrase from his apology was “I’ve thought carefully about this…”
That phrase is so vital because it shows that he wasn’t rejecting Tim flippantly, but he considered it carefully and decided it wasn’t the right thing for him at the right time.
To me that’s a lot easier to swallow than a quick– no, thanks! Most of the letters had something to this effect: “I’ve thought carefully about this…”, “After much debate…”, “I’ve been battling with this…”, etc.
All good phrases to indicate that they did put consideration to this request because they think it’s awesome, but they still must decline.
Simple and genius.
3. Create a policy, stick to it, and use it as a reason you can’t commit to something.
Neal Stephenson, science fiction writer, talks about how he’s trying to experiment with not taking on any new things until he finishes his never-ending list but somehow when things get chopped off the list, new items seem to find their way on the list:
“So, it’s a little like fighting a hydra. I am hoping that if I am ruthlessly efficient, I can one day get to the point where the list actually gets shorter instead of longer. In the meantime, unfortunately, the ruthlessly efficient part of this plan means that I am turning down things like this just as a blanket policy.”
Why it Works
A POLICY. GENIUS. Using a “policy” makes it feel way less personal. You’re not rejecting the person– you’re just saying, sorry. The policy says I can’t.
This is something I’ve started using.
I decided I have a policy of not scheduling more than 3 social, networking or work-related things after work or on weekends per week. Three things. That’s it. That’s all I’m allowed to commit myself outside of my obligations, projects, goals, and tasks.
To some people, that may seem like a LOT but for me I often find myself scheduling 4, 5, and sometimes even 6 things in a row leaving myself with NO time to myself. If I only allow myself 3 days tops– I’m giving myself another 4 to focus on my goals and well being. That’s not perfect but it’s progress.
I’ve already 2 out of the 4 weeks in January, but this policy is new. I have more faith in it after listening to this podcast.
4. Explain your situation
This is the most common theme of all the letters– every single one explains honestly and vulnerably why they’re saying no:
“It has become pretty obvious of late that I’m trying to do too much.”
“I’m struggling, at this moment, to make time ends meet for all we’re doing at USHG, including my ongoing procrastination with my writing projects.”
“After five intense years of creative output and promotion, interviews about personal journeys and where ideas come from, after years of wrapping up one project one day and jumping right into promoting another the next … I’m taking a step back. I recently maxed out pretty hard, and for the benefit of my work, I’ve got to take a break. Over the past month, I’ve canceled contracts and said not to new projects and interviews. I’ve started creating more space to explore and doodle again, to sit and do nothing, to wander and waste a day.”
Why it Works
It’s hard not to have some serious empathy for each one of those situations and makes the “no” easy to understand and relate to without feeling even a little bit offended.
Great episode and if you’d like to listen to the full episode, here’s a link to “Tribe of Mentors: How to Say No”.
“…if you’ve had any modicum of success, even a toe hold in something that might be a success. Your default answer to almost everything should be no.”
Personal Excellence Podcast: How to Say No
This and the next podcast were total unknowns to me before searching for “How to Say No”. In this podcast, host Celestine Chau discusses how she’s learned how to say no to reach the goals she’s working toward. This episode had a few more broad strokes than the Tim Ferriss episode, and you’ll recognize a few of the tips if you’ve ever googled this topic before. I would recommend this podcast episode to someone who’s starting from ground zero on how to say no.
What I love about happening upon Celestine Chau is that when I went to her website, PersonalExcellence.co, she practices what she preaches. Check out what I found on her “Contact” page which lists out an FAQ’s on how to contact her:
Damn, Celes! “For everything else, it’s a no.” That’s badass and major props to her for just laying it out like that. What I like about it is it’s straight forward, available publicly, and ultimately? It’s saving her and the requester time and energy.
Alright, here are some takeaways from her episode.
Key Takeaways from Personal Excellence Podcast: How to Say No
1. Ask yourself– what do you want to say yes to?
This is one of the pieces of advice I’ve heard a lot and a great tool for reframing my perspective. Instead of focusing on what I want to say no too, which may be a negative experience, can I instead remind myself of the things I want to say yes to?
I want to say yes to Chloe time, personal growth, and crushing some of my goals this year. I want to say yes to the people I care about most and the people I want to learn from or be like. And I want to say yes to opportunities that will help me get there. Yes to calm. Yes to being balanced. Fuck yes to focus.
That’s a much more positive thought cadence and experience than: “I need to say no. I want to say no. How do I say no? I don’t want to do this. I am too tired and I don’t feel like socializing. Why did they ask me to do this anyway– don’t they know I need to do XYZ and wash my unicorn?”
What do you want to say “yes” to?
Not only is this helpful in reframing, but it’s also motivation to remember what your goals are and why you want to say no in the first place. Often I use this in an affirmation-y kind of way, for example, I’m saying no to getting drinks with friends tonight because I’m saying yes to a good night’s sleep and no hangover tomorrow. I’m saying no to a day trip to St. Louis because I’m saying yes to dedicating a day of work to advancing my career.
Try it and see how it works for you.
2. Remember– saying yes to someone you don’t want to isn’t being true to you…or them.
Think about when you ask people to do things, and they say no and explain why.
Would you have preferred they sucked it up and attended/participated anyway in a half-ass fashion just to appease you?
I want people who are going to show up because they want to be there, not because they feel obligated to me in some way or because they don’t want to hurt my feelings. Saying no is a way to be authentic, and save everybody time.
3. Do a life audit.
If you find yourself receiving lots of requests that do not align with the path you want to be on, then do a life audit to see why what you want and what’s coming your way are not aligned.
Am I spending a lot of time turning down drinks from creepy dudes? Maybe I’m hanging out on the wrong apps and talking to the wrong people.
Do I find myself doing things to please people who have different priorities in life? Perhaps I should look at finding some friends who have similar priorities.
Am I getting requests online to do unusual interviews or podcasts with people I wouldn’t want to talk to in real life? Perhaps the type of content I’m putting out into the world isn’t attracting the type of people I want to attract.
This is very law-of-attraction-y and I think there’s some definite value to looking at our shit and identifying what might be astray. That’s the very reason I’m deciding to say no in the first place– what I want and what I do haven’t been as aligned as I’d like to achieve what I want, so saying no is a way for me to start heading down that path.
All in all, the podcast was a good intro into “how to say no”. It didn’t have anything I hadn’t heard before, but it was filled with good reminders about how to do this. Which don’t we all need? I do.
Nobody Panic: How to Say No
This is the second podcast I’d never heard of and I LOVED IT! Will be listening to more of Nobody Panic, hosted by Stevie Martin and Tessa Coates because they’re hilarious. Again really back to basics with the information but all good reminders. What makes this episode stand out is the hilarious stories and tangent reactions from each of the hosts.
They covered how to say no at work, how to say no to friends, and how to say no to suitors.
Key Takeaways from Nobody Panic: How to Say No
1. Nobody wants you if you don’t want to be there
By far the part of the episode that resonated with me most was a scenario that Tessa and Stevie imagined. Here’s the paraphrased version:
Imagine you’ve spent every single day of the week doing something and not honoring your need for alone time. You’re sweaty. You’re tired, but you still show up to bowling (EVEN THOUGH YOU HATE BOWLING) because you said you would, goddamnit. And you’ve already pushed this off for a few months so you need to get it over with. So you show up, sweaty and gross and shaking with the three shots of espresso you took to stay awake at 3 o’clock this afternoon. You told yourself you’d only come for an hour so your energy is very “LET’S GO, HURRY UP AND GET A STRIKE SO WE CAN GET OUT OF HERE!” as you put on your bowling shoes and chug a beer so you can say you participated. Your friend stares on in horror and wonder who this beast of stress is that replaced their friend.
Does that sound like fun for anyone?
It’s much funnier on the podcast than in my paraphrased version, I promise. But it drives home that point– NO ONE WANTS YOU TO COME IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE THERE.
And if they do?
Fuck ’em. Do you, my little butterfly.
2. Trust your gut.
In the podcast, they talk about how there have been numerous studies done on people ignoring their gut to go with the majority even though the “majority” was in on the experiment and purposely chose the wrong answer! We ignore our gut even when it rightfully tells us we won’t enjoy the thing we think we’ll enjoy, so just go take a nap anyway, okay? Then everyone wins.
If your gut says “Dude. You need a nap”– It’s probably right. It’s probably trying to tell you not to say yes to that fifth social outing this week. Listen to that dread that shows up when you’re about to say yes to an opportunity.
I highly recommend the episode for a laugh and good insight on how saying no is sometimes the nicest thing to do. It also has commentary on what it’s like to be a woman with the extra added expectations that we’re supposed to be nice, lovely, and always willing to put ourselves last. It’s a show for my fellow feminists out there, and like I said– I’ll be listening on from now on.
In Summary: How to Say No
So there we have it! I have my work cut out. In a nutshell, this is how to say no according to the top 3 podcast episode search results:
How to Say No (politely):
- Compliment the request.
It’s much easier to stomach a rejection when it’s covered in compliment flowers.
- Use the phrase “I’ve thought carefully about this”.
Using this phrase or a similar one will help someone know that you aren’t flippantly rejecting them– it was hard to decide to reject them!
- Create a policy.
This is my favorite. Using a “policy” like denying all requests until your to-do list is complete or saying “no” to conference requests or social outings for a month makes the rejection a lot less personal.
- Explain your situation.
It’s hard to not have empathy for someone when you listen to their reasonable reason for saying no. Don’t be afraid to be honest and vulnerable about why you need to say no.
- Ask yourself “What do you want to say yes to?”
This helps reframe the experience of saying “no” as a positive action and also helps to motivate you into remembering why you’re saying no in the first place.
- Remember– saying “yes” when you don’t want to isn’t being authentic.
It’s not authentic to you or the requester when you say yes to something you don’t want to participate in.
- Do a life audit.
If you’re finding yourself combatting requests that don’t align with what you want, do a life audit to see where what you’re putting out in the world isn’t aligned with what you want to achieve or receive.
- Remember– nobody wants you there if you don’t want to be there.
If roles were reversed, would you want someone to participate if they didn’t want to? Probably not.
- Listen to your gut.
If you dread saying yes to something– listen to your gut! Most of the time your gut is trying to protect you when you’re feeling overbooked and overwhelmed.
How do you say no?
Share your tips and tricks in the comments below.
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