As a mom, we’re used to hearing the word “no” from our children. It can be infuriating and hurtful when they utter this two-letter word. But, I feel that they’re actually on to something.
This doesn’t mean letting them play hooky from school or neglecting their responsibilities like homework or chores. What we can learn from our children is how to say “no” without feeling guilty. If we don’t, then we’re letting others take control of our time, resources, or money.
I’ll be honest. It’s still not easy to turn down a request from someone. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or give the impression that their request isn’t important. But it’s essential if you want to live a healthy, wealthy, and productive life.
While this is by no means an extensive list, here are five proven ways that you can say “no” without feeling guilty.
1. Understand your priorities and convictions.
As Maralee McKee, writer of the etiquette blog Manners Mentor, the first step to take when saying “no” to “have a firm grasp on our priorities and convictions.”
“When we understand that saying ‘yes’ means we would be standing on platitudes, but saying ‘no’ means we’re staying true to our priorities and convictions, ‘no’ becomes a lot easier to say, and guilt goes out the window because we realize it’s the right decision.”
Before you reject any type of request, first determine what your priorities and values are, as well as define your goals. If the request doesn’t align with these then it’s not worth giving away your time or resources.
2. Offer an alternative.
“This is the easiest way to say no,” writes Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D. “Decline the request, but offer a consolation prize.” For example, “My schedule just doesn’t allow me to proofread your dissertation before your deadline, but here’s a link to a great article on the five biggest dissertation errors to watch out for.”
“Just make sure you’re not offering an alternative solely out of guilt—your goal is to actually be helpful to the requestor, not just to make yourself feel less guilty,” adds Hendrikson.
I also know people who prioritize their health so much that they say no to invitations where they know that they’ll be tempted by unhealthy food and drinks. Instead, they send a gift or suggest that they meet another time. For example, they may pass on an acquaintance’s birthday party but offer to take them out to lunch where there are healthier food options.
3. Limit your obligations.
“Commit to a certain number of activities a week, and don’t go over that,” suggests Laura the Mindful Mom Blographer.
“My family is an active one, and we like to go out and ‘do stuff’. But we also like to have our time to spend time with each other, relax and unwind,” explains Laura. “So we started a rule that we only do one ‘activity’ a day, and nothing more. For example, if we have a commitment in the evening, we try our best to lay low at home during the day. If we sign Little E up for swimming lessons, we don’t sign him up for anything else during that period.”
I’d also add that you start going through your calendar and see what activities either no longer bring you joy or fit into your schedule. For example, maybe you started a workout regiment where you attended an hour-long class five days a week. If that’s too much, maybe cut back to three days per week or reducing your session to 30-minutes.
4. Have a “policy.”
This will help you establish and stick to boundaries. Eventually, this will make your decision to say “no” much easier. And, because this a “rule” that you live by, the other party won’t take the rejection so personal.
As Patti Breitman writes in How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty:
“…suppose a friend asks for a loan you don’t want to extend. Utter the phrase ‘Sorry, I have a policy about not lending money,’ and your refusal immediately sounds less personal. In all kinds of situations, invoking a policy adds weight and seriousness when you need to say no. It implies that you’ve given the matter considerable thought on a previous occasion and learned from experience that what the person is requesting is unwise. It can also convey that you’ve got a prior commitment you can’t break. When you turn down an invitation by saying, ‘Sorry, I can’t come—it’s our policy to have dinner together as a family every Friday night,’ it lets the other person know that your family ritual is carved in stone.”
5. Be selfish.
“Put your needs first. Not theirs. If you prioritize theirs over yours, you’ll find your productivity will suffer and resentment will mount,” writes psychotherapist, executive coach, and author Jonathan Alpert.
That may be difficult for us working moms to hear. But, there are times when we need to put ourselves ahead of our children and partner. The same is true with your employer. This doesn’t mean that you are aren’t completely ignoring your children, spouse, or employer. It means being honest and transparent with them that you can get to their request as soon as you take care of your priorities.
Whether if that is attending to your self-care or not taking on a new project while wrapping-up your current work, you need to focus on yourself first before anyone else.
If you have any guilt-free ways to say ”no” please share them with us in the comments below.