How to Say No
Do you hate to say no? Do you often find yourself saying yes because you don’t like to make others feel bad?
Well, I do, and I can relate. I used to be terrible at saying no until I realized that continually saying “yes” was digging myself into a ditch and led me with little time for my personal goals and relationships.
In this episode of The Personal Excellence Podcast, I share 6 tips to say no that I’ve been applying, along with personal examples:
- Tip #1: Know what you want to say yes to [00:57]
- Tip #2: Know that saying no is okay [04:43]
- Tip #3: Many little yeses to irrelevant things, or mildly relevant things, even if small, can deviate you from your main goal [08:26]
- Tip #4: Be honest about it [13:22]
- Tip #5: Give alternatives (if you like) [19:04]
- Tip #6: Do a life audit if you’re getting a high noise signal [20:04]
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How to Say No [Transcript]
Welcome to the Personal Excellence Podcast, the show that’s all about helping you be your best self and live your best life. Now, your host, Celestine Chua.
Celestine Chua: Hey everyone! Welcome to The Personal Excellence Podcast Episode 6. I’m Celestine Chua from PersonalExcellence.co. Today’s topic really hits home for me. It’s about how to say no.
I don’t know about you, but I used to be really bad at saying no. In a way I still am. But I’ve learned to be a lot better at it. If you are someone who has difficulty saying no, today I want to share with you six tips that have worked really well for me and I hope you’ll find them helpful.
1) Know what is it you want to say yes to
My tip number one is to know what you want to say yes to. For me, when I just focus on learning how to say no as an action in itself, it becomes a hollow quest. Because my default self is to help people. I like to agree to requests as much as I can. And I like to be there for other people.
Obviously, this has its own implications. After countless situations where I just kept saying yes, yes, yes to every single person, request, and favor, I just didn’t have any time for myself, for my goals.
On the other hand, when I focus on the things that I want to say yes to, meaning my biggest goals and dreams, my Quadrant 2 projects, this helps me define this clear vision of the real big priorities in my life. Let’s say I don’t have this clear vision. Everything can simply be important. Yet, when framed into the context where we all have limited time on Earth, we all have certain ambitions to realize within our lifetime, then it becomes clear that we need to prioritize the things that we say yes to, and hence no to the other things.
For me, what I want to say yes to would be PE. All of you guys. Growing it, creating more content for you guys, creating more great courses. Just being there for all of you, through my content. And of course, my loved ones, my family members. And my own personal growth and health. These would be the biggest rocks I wish to say yes to. So these priorities will never change. They will just be there, till the day I die.
Knowing these key big rocks puts into context the things I should say yes to, and the things I should say no to. For example, let’s say someone may be asking for a favor or pitching a proposal or an idea that is not a good fit for my business. Then letting it drag on will not help my Quadrant 2 goals, and in fact, waste the other person’s time. It’s clear that I need to say no to the distractions, the things that deviate me from my mission, as well as time for my loved ones, my personal health, and sanity.
So my question to you is:
- What do you want to say yes to?
- What are your biggest goals and dreams?
- What are your personal ambitions?
By having this clear idea in your mind, it helps you become more aware that — some of the things that you have been having difficulty saying no to? These are probably things that you need to say no to. By dragging on and saying yes to things that you may not be 100% committed to or passionate about, that’s not really helping you realize your highest goals and dreams.
2) Saying no is okay
My tip number two is to know that saying no is OK.
In the past, I felt that when I say no, I would be regarded as an asshole. That people would hate me. That I would just be seen as being ungenuine, just not being true to my mission. I didn’t want that because I just truly from the bottom of my heart want to be there for everybody as much as possible.
So I just kept saying yes to every single request, favor, that came along my way. In the end, even with giving up my own sleep and just working around the clock, I still did not have time for the goals that I wish to pursue, my own priorities, and my loved ones, and much less my health.
So I learned the hard way that saying no, not only is it OK, but it is very much necessary. For such a long time, I just tried so hard and tried my best not to say no to people. Because I felt that it wasn’t OK. But I learned that hard and painful way that this isn’t true and saying no is okay, and in fact necessary in many circumstances.
What I’ve learned from this episode is that when you say no, it doesn’t mean that you are being rude or you’re not being true. If anything, when you say no to something that you are not 100% committed to, and you’re really just saying yes because you’re afraid to say no? That is when you are not being true. You’re not being true to yourself and you’re not being true to that person you are saying yes to. Because you do not feel 100% committed to that cause or request or favor, whatever the other party is requesting.
Being true means that you are being honest and authentic in terms of how you feel. If it’s a no-go, or you don’t feel like it’s something you can say yes to, then just be honest about that. That is what it means to be truthful. You can’t expect everybody’s question or requests would always be 100% aligned with your own needs and expectations. Many times, they are just not going to be. This is especially so if you are in a position where you often get people pitching things to you, where people want your time and attention, or maybe you are a consultant that people would like your advice. You would probably find yourself in situations where there are things that are not aligned with your own priorities and needs, and you have to say no to.
When that happens, this is 100% okay and normal. You shouldn’t feel that you are an asshole, or that you are a negative person, or that you are in the wrong because that is not true at all. People say no all the time in this world, be in relationships or in business. Saying no is needed to let other people know that this is not aligned, this is not working out. Then they can move on to find the right person that would be a good fit for whatever they are requesting about.
3) Many little yeses to irrelevant things can deviate you
My tip number three is to know that many little yeses to irrelevant things, or mildly irrelevant things — even if these things are small, they can ultimately still deviate you from your main goal.
This is also something that I had to realize for myself. I always try to accommodate other people’s needs. I always want to make sure that everyone is happy, and there are no conflicts and so on.
So that means that oftentimes in the past, I would want to say yes. Sometimes when it’s a very clear-cut situation where it’s about saying no, I just say no. But then there are the situations where it is just something that requires a very small amount of your time. 30 minutes, two hours, one hour, whatever. It is just a small commitment of your time, and then you would be thinking, Yeah why not?
So doing that, I ended up saying yes to so many things. It could be a favor, a request, an invitation to something, an interview with X publication, meetups, and so on. Like everything! I just kept saying yes because I’d be thinking, Yeah why not? This looks like something I can allocate a couple of hours to. And I just genuinely wanted to be there for each and everybody who contacted me.
But after years of doing that, my agenda became flooded with people’s requests, wants, and needs. Even though each request would take maybe 30 minutes, an hour or two or three, when added together, it became a huge load on myself. It got to a point where I was going crazy. I would be staying up late every day, replying to emails or fulfilling certain things that I had agreed to in the past. And because I always wanted to put my best foot forward — I don’t believe in agreeing to something and then just doing it shabbily. I always feel like if I’m agreeing to something, I want to put my best foot forward to that. And I did. So Ken would be seeing me sleeping so late every day, and he would always be expressing concern. I realized that I really need to be more watchful in how I allocate my time because we don’t have unlimited time on Earth.
This tip is really about being discerning of the things that you say yes to. Because even if it’s just one small thing that seems mildly relevant and takes a little bit of your time, when you say yes to a lot of these things, ultimately you will get deviated very far from your main goal.
During this whole period where I just kept saying “Yes” and “Why not?” to all of the little things that were mildly relevant or that I thought I could offer a bit of my time to, this resulted in me neglecting my overall Quadrant 2 goals for PE, be it content creation, article writing, and so on. That just made me feel miserable because in trying to say yes to every single little thing that was mildly irrelevant, in the end, I ended up saying no to this huge thing which is so crucial to me and impacts so many people on a large scale.
This links back to tip number one about knowing what you want to say yes to. Because when you’re just saying although yeses to all of the little things, ultimately you’re just saying no to that big thing you wish to accomplish.
The question to you is: Is this what you want? Would you rather be spending your time doing little things that are mildly relevant to your dreams, your goals, your life? Or do you want to devote your energy focused on doing those one, two, three big things that would give you that maximum fulfillment when you realize them?
Well, the question is to you. I know I want to choose the latter. That’s because when I do the latter well, I will impact a lot more people on a much bigger scale. That gives me a lot more meaning, fulfillment, and happiness in life.
4) Be honest about it
My tip number four is to be honest about it.
I know we can be really tough to say no and communicate it to someone. Of course, we feel like we would be hated and we would seem like we are nasty folks when we are saying no. Some people may not take that well.
But that is not a reason not to say no. If anything, it helps to just communicate that reason directly now, so that the other person can know how you truly feel. As opposed to living in the charade and living behind pretenses.
Actually, most of the times, you wouldn’t even need to give a reason if you’re not exactly close to the person. But if there is some strong preexisting relationship, and if you just want to be honest, then you can just give the reason if it makes you’ll feel better.
Example: When I said no to a request
So a couple months ago, I received a request from someone and he was inviting me to join his company on his board of advisors. This was a high honor. And this is someone who is very important and of high status. And I did consider that.
But when I thought about what I truly want to say yes to… As what I mentioned just now, what I want to say yes to, like my big yes, would be to develop PE further, to create all this great content for you guys to help you in your growth. And to be there for the community. I’ve known from my past experiences that PE takes up a fair level of my time. If I were to allocate my time elsewhere, it would just be diverting my time from what truly matters to me. It would be the kind of nice-to-be-involved project — like things that I kept getting a lot of over the years and that I’ve said yes to countless times, but in the end it took up so much of my time and energy and left me drained at the end of the day with no time for my health, relationships, and my most important goals.
So I realized that I needed to say no, and it was about communicating that no. So then I replied to the email and I drafted it out. I thought about how to best present my stance without offending this person. I didn’t offend him. I certainly didn’t want want to burn bridges.
And then I just typed my e-mail and then deleted some stuff, and then typed some more. Left it there for a couple of hours. Came back later to look at it with fresh eyes to see [if there was] anything that needed amending. In the process of typing that e-mail, I decided to be honest as opposed to coming out with random excuses.
So yeah. I just wrote honestly about how I feel that as an honor, but I don’t feel like I can be involved in this because to do so would take away time from the most important goals and projects in my life. If I want to be involved in something, I want to be involved in it 100%. But I don’t feel I’m able to commit 100% to this thing, and because of that, I need to say no. And then I clicked send.
After that, I was a little bit anxious because I was worried that I might offend him.
Well, in less than a day, I received an e-mail reply from him. He said he read the e-mail with a smile on his face and not even to worry about it because he wasn’t offended in any way at all. And he just wished me all the best. That was that! So in my mind, I was worried about whether I would be offending him, and I was spending a few days thinking about how to articulate my reply. He just replied in less than a day and just said, don’t sweat it!
A lot of times our worries with regards to saying no, it may well just be in our mind, you know? We may be worried about how people may feel, may think, and so on. And that’s with good reason obviously. Because we don’t want to be nasty people. We don’t want to be rude to people. We don’t want to make people feel bad if we can. I totally understand that.
But sometimes, maybe certain people are really just articulating a request or suggestion. Maybe they are doing the same thing to other people as well. Maybe they’re not even thinking too much about that.
So as opposed to putting the weight of the world on your shoulders, maybe what really helps is just being honest in your communications and not to worry or think too much about something until it has happened. Because as the saying goes, over 90-95% of the worries that we have, tend to be just in our minds.
5) Give alternatives
My fifth tip is to give alternatives.
If it makes you feel better, you can suggest alternatives. This is an optional tip. You don’t have to do that because you can’t possibly be suggesting alternatives to every single thing that you say no to, especially if you often need to say no.
But, as and when you feel appropriate, you can give some alternative suggestions that the person can consider. Let’s say someone wants you to get involved in the particular project and you can’t. Then you can suggest someone else if you can think of someone who would be suitable.
You don’t necessarily have to do that but if you feel like it’s something that can make you feel better, and you can offer it without significant cost on your end, then you can give alternatives.
6) Do a life audit
My sixth and last tip is to do a life audit if you’re getting a high noise signal.
What do I mean by that? I have found that for every request, there’s always an evaluation process where you are thinking, Should I engage in this? Should I not? What are the trade-offs? What will it cost? What do I need to put in? What could potentially be the outcome from this?
This is known as cognitive load. Cognitive load is that load on your mind when you’re processing a decision. When you’re dealing with just one request or two requests, that cognitive load isn’t apparent. But when you’re dealing with a high volume of requests for an extended period of time, you probably will feel drained after some time — yet you can’t really understand why.
So you could be not doing much, but you still feel a load on your mind. That would be cognitive load at work.
Let’s say you’re getting so many requests that require your mental energy to process, to think through, and to weigh the pros and cons. That would be very draining. Ideally, you want to cut down the number of requests that you have to process and to increase the hit rate. Hit rate is the chance of a request being compatible with what you wish to do.
If you are getting a lot of requests that aren’t a fit and that you need to continually think about how to reject, then this is what I call a high noise signal. High noise signal meaning that there is a high ratio of requests that are incompatible and hence the term “noise.”
So over the years, I’ve been receiving a lot of requests. Initially, in the first few years, it was manageable. After a while, it started to weigh down on me. It wasn’t something that was immediately apparent. This was something that just started building up over the months and years.
Just a few months ago, I started thinking, What am I doing? In that, I was feeling so weighed down by this high noise signal. Unfortunately, there’s just so much noise on the Internet these days. Just by the corollary of having an Internet presence, that also means that you get a very high volume of spam and random requests from people not reading the instructions on the contact page. So I dealt with that problem for quite a while, and then I hired my assistant last year who started to be involved in helping me manage my email and that helped me tons.
But ultimately, whether it is email processing done by me or my assistant, the whole situation just didn’t feel right. In that, a very very small minority of the e-mails that were coming in were a fit for what I wish to pursue. Especially as I got more clarity on the important projects that I wish to be involved in, which would be scale-based activities like creating content, working on online courses at PE, just building the community at large. It was so little like I think last year out of the thousands of e-mails that came in, less than five were a fit for what I wish to pursue.
With this revelation, I realized that I needed to review the communication channels on my site.
- I needed to say no to 1-1 coaching because this was not a fit with the scale-based direction that I wanted to go into. Like I really enjoy 1-1 coaching. But it was no longer feasible to keep taking on 1-1 coaching clients because it was taking my time away from other scale-based projects.
- It also meant saying no meet-up requests which I would get a lot off because those were just taking up a lot of my time and energy as well.
- It also meant removing my email from the PE contact page because a lot of people were abusing it and sending things that were not relevant to whatever I mentioned on that page.
Doing that helped clear out a lot of the noise.
So as opposed to taking up all this time to think about which e-mails were worth pursuing, which e-mails to archive and so on, all this energy can then be spent and invested into a more constructive use. Like improving the overall platform. Creating new material for all of you guys and so on.
That is just one example. When there’s a high level of noise signal in your life, that suggests that something is misaligned and it’s something to look into.
A totally different example: Let’s say you are single and you’re dating. You’re looking for your ideal relationship. But perhaps you’ve been getting so many different date requests. A lot of them tend to be low-quality dates. Low-quality dates in the sense of dates that are not compatible with you, your values, and the kind of person you’re looking for.
If that’s the case, it helps to do some audit. Maybe you are just going to the wrong places to meet people. Maybe the dates that you’ve been getting, maybe they’re coming from a particular channel, like a particular dating app or dating website, and maybe the audience profile on these sites or apps are just not a good fit for the kind of person you are and the kind of person you’re looking for.
This is assuming that your dating picture, your dating profile, that everything is already optimized and true to who you are and how you want to present yourself. Then perhaps there’s something to be reviewed. Maybe it’s about going to a different place to meet new people. Maybe is about exploring different channels, different apps, different dating websites. Basically changing your approach as opposed to perpetuating that cycle.
So the end goal is to continually improve the processes in your life: the way that you’re doing things, how you’re communicating with people. The ideal scenario is to get a healthy volume of requests that are a great fit for what you wish to pursue that you can readily say yes to. And there would be a high hit ratio.
I hope you’ve found today’s podcast helpful. For more on how to say no, check out my article on how to say no, at personalexcellence.com/blog/say-no/.
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So thank you so much for listening. And I look forward to speaking to you guys in the next episode. Bye guys!
End Note: Thanks for listening to The Personal Excellence Podcast. For more tips on how to live your best life, visit www.personalexcellence.co