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Learning to Say ‘No.’

It's a fine balance between being involved in your industry or company, community, family, et cetera, and taking on so much that you enjoy little of it.

If you struggle to say "No," you could end up spending your time on things that aren't truly important to you—or having so little time that you aren't able to carry out your obligations well, even if they really matter to you. If you are a "Yes" man (or woman), try these tips for saying "No" and reclaim your life.

• Don't apologize or make excuses. It's OK to say, "That's not going to work for me right now," without elaborating. Don't be afraid to repeat that phrase until it sinks in.

• Don't waffle. The moment you appear to be considering taking on a new task, you're encouraging the person asking to pressure you into it. Consider not just what you say, but what your body language is saying. Smiling, nodding, and leaning in all say "Yes," whereas more reserved body language sets the stage for "No." Asking questions also shows interest. If you already know that you want to say "No," don't show interest in the task or position.

• Don't be afraid to interrupt. While this is often construed as rude, it's not terribly so if you take the right approach. It might also save a lot of time to say, "I apologize for interrupting—I think I know where you're headed, and I have to say, I can't commit to involvement with XYZ right now."

• Consider how you present yourself. If you are known to be a member of every organization, the last one working at every event, stepping up to fill in the gaps where others won't, it's going to become expected of you. There's a difference between being a team player and being a martyr.

• Use deflection, when appropriate: "I can't commit to that role, but I could help by doing XYZ."

• Take a rain check. If it's something you're truly interested in, but just not able to find time for it at the moment, ask if there might be a similar opportunity in the future: "My position on the board of directors ends next year, and I might consider this opportunity when that obligation has ended. Could I touch base with you about it then?"

• Give the matter thought before committing. Even if you're pretty sure you want to say "Yes," ask for 24 hours to think it over. This has two benefits: the opportunity to think it through and ask for advice or input, and the opportunity to turn down the offer via email or over the phone, where it's easier to make an exit.

Give yourself permission to say "No" without feeling guilty. By saying "No," you are creating space in your life that allows you to say "Yes" to opportunities that are important to you when they come along, whether it is a coveted role in a leadership position, spending an afternoon with your family, or quiet time for yourself.

Written by Jennifer Reynolds.


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