Just Say No – The polite way to decline

No is such a simple little word, but it seems so difficult to spit it out some times. Why do we have so much trouble saying it?

So often I feel like I have too much on my plate. Why is that? Why do I feel that I have so much to do, and not enough time to do everything?

I was thinking about this over the weekend, and I have come to the conclusion that in the past a lot of things that are taking up my time aren’t even mine!

Just Say No - How to Decline Politely

I would like to think of myself as a kind and helpful person. As I am the kind of person that doesn’t like to leave people stranded, in all honesty, I find it very hard to say no when someone asks for my help.

Point in hand…

About two years ago, a friend of mine was creating an e-book. And when she asked for some help with creating it, I said sure. I am certainly no designer but she had a sample of what she would like so I had something to go off. What I thought would be maybe one day of work, turned out to be a few days. A few days of fiddling for more than a couple of hours every day, to get the e-book completed. The friend was really happy with how it turned out. No problem right?

Wrong! The next time she came to me in search of some help, she asked if my son could assist, as she understands that it takes up a lot of my time. And she was more than willing to pay for his services. As he hadn’t done much work of late, he was tickled pink at the opportunity to earn some more money. But unfortunately, he is not the most motivated person, and whilst he worked fine with the mum beside him saying, let’s move this here, and delete that part, as soon as she left, he had no interest anymore.

So what happens? I am spending my time, sitting with him, not really helping him, as he is more than capable, but just trying to keep him on task to get the job done. There goes more of my precious hours in the week! In all fairness, the mum was very generous and paid him for his time, but of course, my time was sold for the ripe old price of $0.

Being the kindhearted person that I am, when the same mum came back to me and asked for my help on a rather large editing job, with the promise of recognition and payment, I felt that I couldn’t say no again. I have no interest whatsoever in recognition, but the payment sounded good. At the time, funds were a little tight, and the school fees were looming. Of course, it was something like 8 weeks later, and so many hours that I don’t care to count, and this mum was still coming back to me and saying “Can we just change this?” and “I think we need to take this part out” and “How about we use this image over here?”

Every change was taking up more and more of my time. Every change was also taking up more and more space on my computer, with more saves, etc. And these files were huge! It ended up clogging up my back up drive so much so, that I had to reformat it and start again. I just could not get it to continue on with the backup. Not only that, every time she wanted to see the updates, it meant exporting the file , and then uploading it to a service that could email large files, which sometimes took hours on it’s own. More time spent and I was without the computer to do things that I needed to get done, because I didn’t dare risk multi-tasking in case I froze the export or upload.

All of this was really making me feel very stressed out. I ended up telling this mum, that we had to get the e-book to a stage where it was finished. I couldn’t keep spending hours and hours on end, making fiddly little changes because she had spoken to someone else and they thought this font would look better on the credits, or another picture would be better suited to the end page. Seriously, I had had enough.

Begrudgingly, she agreed and said that after this change that would be it. Now don’t get me wrong, she was very generous in her payment. The only problem was, none of it was cash! She gave me a generous helping of chocolates and wine, she even cooked lunches and dinner for me on the last day left to get editing done so that I didn’t have to leave my computer! And she also paid for my son to attend a week-long camp, that he wanted to go to with her child. Which of course was amazing, and he had an absolute ball.

But that wasn’t for me. I know that sounds very selfish, but I would have liked a little something for myself, for all of the hard work that I put in. There was no going out and treating myself to a movie. No new dress, no manicure or pedicure, not even a colour, cut and blow-dry. No money to go into the bank or towards the school fees.

You would think that I would learn my lesson right?

Ummm, wrong again. The very same mum came back to me a couple of months later and asked if I could please upload some movies to her YouTube account. Again, thinking this would just be a matter of grabbing the file and setting it to upload overnight, I reluctantly agreed to help her out. Of course, when I get the files from her, they are in DVD format, not MP4, and I now have to convert the files before uploading them. MORE WORK!!!

So what is the lesson here? Our time is finite, and more often than not, we would much rather be doing things with our families. Or if you are like me, having some time alone.

So how do we politely decline to help someone? It is a fine art that I am still trying to master. It is definitely a skill worth working on. You need to be able to do it without offending them. But also be very clear in the fact that you are in fact saying NO.

Sorry, but No!

Here are 6 tips on how to Politely Say No:

  1. Make sure you use the word “No!” Don’t beat around the bush by saying “Maybe another time”, or “Not right now”, say the word NO!
  2. Remind yourself of the cost to you. We are not only talking about your time here. We are talking about the opportunity to spend that time with your family. The cost to your health or sleep, due to the stress or magnitude of their request. Or how about money, the cost of what you could be earning if you were working in your day job. I always put a dollar value on my time now. It helps put these types of requests into perspective.
  3. Give them an alternative. “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to help you with this but have you looked into creating your own books on an online photo book site?”
  4. Some people are really persistent and will continue to nag until they get a yes. If you are unsure if you want to commit to a project, don’t be bullied into one. Buy yourself some time by telling them “I will need to check my calendar and get back to you”. Not only does this get them off your back but it also gives you a chance to think more clearly about if you even want to commit to this.
  5. One no is not always enough. Be confident enough to offer the second no, but more assertively. We have all heard that saying, “They can’t take no for an answer”. Make sure that they soon learn how to.
  6. Don’t feel the need to elaborate. Apart from the fact that you don’t owe them any kind of an explanation, it can sometimes come off as if you are lying.

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