Jun 16, 2015

    How to say no and stay firm on it

    ONE thing I plan to work on this year is to be able to be firm and say "no".

    I thought I was a really "nice" person by saying "yes" to almost everything that I am asked to do or attend to. I realised I was not only burning myself out, but I had also let some people down by not being able to be there for those who matter.

    Why is it so difficult to say no?

    A lot of people, especially women, have difficulty in saying a firm no to something they don't really want to do.

    The inability to give a firm no can not only be counterproductive, but it can also be very stressful as you will need to juggle the additional tasks and appointments that you have agreed to.

    Many of us find it challenging to say no because we want to be liked as individuals. We do not want to disappoint or close doors to opportunities.

    However, by saying no, we are actually opening doors to many other chances which can contribute to our learning. We will have more time to focus on what is best for our career growth.

    Another reason I think it is difficult for many to say no, especially at work, is because we believe that by doing more things, we will be able to climb the corporate ladder faster.

    While it may be true for some, it might not be for you if you are not able to produce the best quality of work assigned to you.

    Some may also find it difficult to say no because we want to avoid feeling guilty. We may feel that we are being selfish by saying no. However, it is more selfish to feed our guilt and jeopardise the quality of our work.

    Here are some ways to build up your strength to say no.


    To start saying no, you have to begin with a decision to say no and be firm with the choices that you have made. Be firm and unapologetic in your response but avoid appearing aggressive as this may burn bridges between you and whoever asked.

    Often, people tend to give reasons as to why they cannot take the extra load of work or participate in a particular event as a way to say no. However, sometimes "no, thank you" is sufficient.

    By giving excuses, you are allowing people to manoeuvre around you.

    You are also allowing yourself to fall into a cycle of lies should you not be honest in your excuses.

    This will not only tarnish your reputation as an individual, but you will also appear as someone who is not able to make decisions and hold his ground.


    Asians are well known for their generosity and therefore, we tend to offer as much help to others as possible.

    However, when it comes to work, sometimes it would be best to identify our capacity in doing the job before offering to do it.

    If the task is something that you believe would be really great in accelerating your growth, improve your skills and help you achieve what you want, then take some time to identify your current workload and understand how much effort you will have to invest before volunteering to help.

    You are, after all, responsible for your own portfolio.


    Whenever you are asked to do something, always take some time to decide whether you should take the task or not.

    Avoid agreeing on the spot to any invites or additional work. Give yourself some time to understand your priorities, availability and capacity.

    This way, you will be able to set a viable work pace and avoid spreading yourself too thin. You do not want to fall into a life that has minimal time for rest.

    Make use of the calendar app in your phone to block your time for work and personal appointments. From here, you will be able to see clearly your availability to attend to or work on things.

    It is a good idea to consider if the tasks that you will be doing is going to help you build new skills and experiences.


    But how can you be firm on saying no?

    My difficulty in saying no has led me to search for ways to stand my ground when necessary, and to make it a habit.

    Firstly, we need to identify and be aware of why we tend to go "yes, yes, yes" when asked to do something. Once you are aware of the drivers in your behaviour, you can manage your responses better by modifying your gut reactions.

    Next, set an achievable target for yourself. Know what you want to see by the end of the year after you started saying no. Does your health improve? Did you get enough sleep? Are your friends and family happy with the time that you get to spend with them?

    Last but not least, plan your way to achieve this vision by identifying tools or methods that can help you say no.


    The writer is part of the youth team at Leaderonomics, a social enterprise that, among other things, trains leaders in various fields.

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