The "No" Problem

NoProblemArtI'm good at saying no.

It's a skill I've mastered over the years, after finding myself in many situations where I should have said no. If you've ever played host to the guests from hell, baked 10 dozen cupcakes on an hour’s notice with other deadlines looming, or taken on a project that should have been done by the co-worker who conned you into doing it, you know what I'm talking about.

While I hated being ticked off after saying yes instead of no, it was that feeling of cowardice — and a lack of self-confidence and self-worth — that pushed me to stand up for myself.  

It wasn't easy. There was lots of trial and error (and cupcakes). But after years of working on the "no" problem, I found success in five simple words. And I want to share them in the hopes of sparing even one of you some pain, suffering and burnt baked goods.

Just say: "That doesn't work for me."


But you can't just throw it out there and expect great results. You're going to get pushback from whomever is doing the asking since they don't want to take "no" for an answer. So knowing what to say after "That doesn't work for me" is important too.

There are two ways to go.

1. You offer no apologies, no explanations, and keep repeating the phrase "That doesn't work for me." When you offer explanations, you may get into trouble because people want to understand your reasons for saying no so they can argue you out of them. How do you know if you need to repeat "That doesn't work for me?" It'll be when you're irritated by the fact that the person won't accept your "no" gracefully. You may be thinking, "I'm not being unreasonable here. I don't have to justify myself. I don't have that many muffin pans."

Ditto on apologies. Many of us throw in a "sorry" here or there or start sputtering half-hearted excuses. That only leads to defeat. Your adversary will know you have sensitive feelings they can prey on and will push/guilt you into switching from no to yes. Stay strong!

This takes practice, so start now: "That doesn't work for me." "That doesn't work for me." Smile. "That still doesn't work for me."

2. You say, "That doesn't work for me" and point out the legitimate reasons why. In some situations, an explanation is required, like when you're asked to do something by a co-worker or boss and you're uncomfortable saying no because you're worried about your job, career advancement or both.

You need a good "Here's why." My favorites with co-workers: "I'm not the person who handles that. You need to talk to so-and-so." Or, "Thanks for thinking of me, but I'm sure you'll handle that brilliantly on your own." For your boss: "I can't take that on at this time because I'm already committed to X, Y, and Z and those projects are a priority."

What you're doing is offering a reasonable explanation and an alternative course of action — talk to someone else, do it yourself or take something off my plate so I can do what you want instead. This also takes practice. But you'll be a better person for it —you won't be irritated because you're doing things you should have said "no" to in the first place.

Saying "no" can be a tricky thing. You have to give yourself permission to say it and be okay with it. I know it's hard, I really do. If you’re not quite ready, or still need some practice, I highly recommend this recipe, from Williams-Sonoma, for carrot-orange cupcakes. — CG

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