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Life skill: How to say no more often even if it feels uncomfortable

Life skill: How to say no more often even if it feels uncomfortable

Learning how to say “no” can be a terrifying thing especially when you have been so used to saying “yes” your whole life.

However, the better you are at saying “no” to things you don’t want to do, the more time you have for yourself. This is not about being selfish, but it is to put your best interest first.

“Can you help me to do this task since you have been doing this all these while?”

No thanks.

“Can you help to give a presentation here since you are new?”

Nope, not really.


As someone who is used to saying yes my whole life and agreeing on doing things for others, this does not mean that one should be taken for granted.

It was tough for me to say no at the start. This is because I worry that I might upset my colleagues, friends, and peers. I also worry that people may think that I am incompetent or lazy.

However, there comes a point where saying no actually keeps your sanity in place.

Earlier this year, I was actually working on one of the largest deal in my career. I remembered I had worked on three consecutive weekends straight, just to get out a 300-page long proposal for our client.

This put a lot of unnecessary stress on my mind and body which until now, I am still struggling to recover.

Hence, I am sharing the below tips which I have learned along the way which will be helpful in politely declining additional work with no extra benefits or saying no to things that you don’t wish to do.

A. Don’t be too responsive

It’s all a judgement call. There are times where you are required to be responsive in your work as it shows that you are on top of things, but there are times you also need to be unresponsive so that people actually will not bother you. You will find out that they are able to solve problems on their own as well.

Scenario 1: Client asks you for many requests and favours and by being too responsive, you give him the expectation that you are readily available and he can demand for responses at his convenience. Most people want things to do done ACCORDING to their timeline. But you should also require that of others and segregate work and personal time so that they do not disturb you after office hours.

Scenario 2: Bosses and colleagues know that you are a helpful person and starts giving you more work that isn’t within your job scope. You have every right to politely decline. If you have said yes too much in previous occasions, you may be to re-calibrate people’s expectations of asking you for every little thing. Sometimes not replying to every little request of them is as good as saying no.

Research mentioned to delay your email replies for as long as you can. Most of the time, people are able to find their answer on their own even without your help.

B. It’s okay to disappoint 

When you are so used to saying yes all the time, saying no can weigh on your mind. However, don’t embrace the guilt. It’s okay to disappoint people once in a while so that they know that is is unrealistic to expect everything from you. When you surround yourself with people who are so used to getting whatever they want from you, they may not like it when you are selfish. There is nothing in it for them. But, never let them tap into your guilt for you have felt guilty for long enough.

C. Start by expressing yourself more 

Saying no requires lots of courage and it puts you in uncharted territory. Start by voicing out your views and opinions more during team meetings or even with discussions with friends. It is okay to offer a different opinion. Say something. Anything. This will build up your confidence slowly in saying no in the future.

When I was in Switzerland for a rotational program with one of my companies, I noticed that the Europeans are good at voicing out their opinions even if it mattered very little! I tried replicating such actions and was surprised to see how it helped me to build up my confidence over time. I am better at saying what is on my mind now even if it gets challenged by my boss or colleagues.

Over time, I find myself being able to politely decline work or things that I don’t wish to do so as to save a little bit more time for myself.

D. It’s all about the tone and phrasing

One thing I’ve learned that to politely decline someone without offending them, the tone and phrasing matters. A LOT.

People are okay with you rejecting them as long as the tone is pleasant and the wording does not come across as defensive.

I’ve found some useful tips and phrasing from past experiences and have wrote it below:

“That’s not my area of expertise although I would love to help. I’m happy to direct you to Alicia, and I’m sure she would be better placed to help you with that question.”

“I think Matthew, our new joiner is up to speed and able to help on this request. Let me forward your request to him.”

“You can find such information from XXX and typically, they are the ones that store the information. I will make this an exception and going forward, you can reach out to XXX.”

“Thanks for your email. I am out of office until XXX. If it is urgent, you can reach out to my colleague who will be more than happy to assist you. If not, let me get back to you once I am back.”

Lastly, remember that your mental health and wealth comes first! If you feel that it is being compromised, you have every right to say no.

Did you find this useful? Share with us if you have other useful tips in the box below.

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Warmest regards,

Finance and Toast


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