Focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.—John Carmac
Learning to say NO to our friends, colleagues, and family is one of the hardest decisions we are faced with on an ongoing basis. It is usually extremely hard for a lot of us to say NO because of our upbringing, it is kind of not culturally accepted to say NO, you hear words like you are been selfish. We are trained to be courteous and polite.
Anytime you say: “yes” to one request, you might have to defend it over time with 100 NOs. There is always a trade-off. If you say yes to mindless social media scrolling or picking up your phone to check WhatsApp messages every 15 minutes, you are saying NO invariably to your dream of writing a book or a blog post article. Many of us find it hard to say NO to people’s requests because we do not have clear goals, values, priorities, and boundaries.
The key to saying NO is to say it graciously and with utmost sincerity. You can say something like: Thank you for the offer/invitation but due to my other commitments, I can not do this right now. Honesty is the best policy, mean what you say and say what you mean. No need to promise people what you know you are not going to do, this eventually leads to resentment and loss of trust in the relationship.
The Art of saying NO is very important as you need to prioritize your goals over many other activities. For example, instead of watching 8 hours of TV over the weekend, why not put that time into your business or dream. Saying yes to mindless TV watching over the weekend is saying NO to your dreams. If you do not prioritize your life, someone else will; if you are always saying yes to other people’s priorities, their priorities becomes your own priorities. This approach to living leads to overwhelm, frustration, guilt, and anger.
SET Clear Boundaries
In his book, Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud outlines how and when to say NO:
In the physical world, a fence or some other kind of structure usually delineates a boundary. In the spiritual world, fences are invisible. Nevertheless, you can create good protective fences with your words.
The most basic boundary-setting word is no. It lets others know that you exist apart from them and that you are in control of you. Being clear about your no—and your yes.
People with poor boundaries struggle with saying no to the control, pressure, demands, and sometimes the real needs of others. They feel that if they say no to someone, they will endanger their relationship with that person, so they passively comply but inwardly resent. Sometimes a person is pressuring you to do something; other times the pressure comes from your own sense of what you “should” do. If you cannot say no to this external or internal pressure, you have lost control of your property and are not enjoying the fruit of “self-control.”.
Know your WORTH
One of the reasons we find it hard to say NO is because we really do not know our worth. You need, for example, to place a dollar value on your time and measure every request made of you with the Dollar worth question: Is this a good use of my time? Let say your time is valued at $50 per hour; when someone calls you on the phone, and you know the conversation might not lead anywhere, ask yourself, is it worth spending 4 hours/$200 on the phone? Someone like Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, is said to make $4,475,885 per hour, which means 4 hours of Jeffs’s time is equal to 18 Million dollars. Always ask yourself:
Is this a good use of my time?
Author Greg Mckeown, in his great book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, shares a great story on when graphic designer Paul Rand had the guts to say no to Steve Jobs, the story shows how knowing your worth allows you to say NO more easily:
Make your peace with the fact that saying “NO” often requires trading popularity for respect.
When Jobs was looking for a logo for the company NeXT, he asked Paul Rand, whose work included the logos for IBM, UPS, Enron, Westinghouse, and ABC, to come up with a few options. But Rand didn’t want to come up with “a few options.” He wanted to design just one option.
So Rand said: “No. I will solve your problem for you. And you will pay me. And you don’t have to use the solution. If you want options go talk to other people. But I will solve the problem the best way I know how. And you use it or not. That’s up to you. Not surprisingly, Rand solved the problem and created the “jewel” logo Jobs wanted, but the real lesson here is the effect Rand’s “push back” had on Jobs, who later said of Rand,
“No. I will solve your problem for you. And you will pay me. And you don’t have to use the solution. If you want options go talk to other people. But I will solve the problem the best way I know how. And you use it or not. That’s up to you, You Pay Me”
“He is one of the most professional people I have ever worked with: in the sense that he had thought through all of the formal relationship between a client and a professional such as himself.” Rand took a risk when he said no. He bet a short-term popularity loss for a long-term gain in respect. And it paid off.
In his book, The ONE Thing, Gary Keller. shares some great insights on how successful people say NO:
Three-Foot Rule by Gary Keller
When I hold one of my arms out as widely as possible, from my neck to my fingertips is three feet. I’ve made it my time-managing mission to limit who and what can get within three feet of me. The rule is simple: A request must be connected to my ONE Thing for me to consider it. If it’s not, then I either say no to it or I deflect it elsewhere.
A request must be connected to my ONE Thing for me to consider it. If it’s not, then I either say no to it or I deflect it elsewhere.
Peers will ask for your advice and help. Co-workers will want you on their team. Friends will request your assistance. Strangers will seek you out. Invitations and interruptions will come at you from everywhere imaginable. How you handle all of this determines the time you’re able to devote to your ONE Thing and the results you’re ultimately able to produce.
When you say yes to something, it’s imperative that you understand what you’re saying no to. Screenwriter Sidney Howard, of Gone with the Wind fame, advised, “One-half of knowing what you want is knowing what you must give up before you get it.” In the end, the best way to succeed big is to go small. And when you go small, you say no—a lot. A lot more than you might have ever considered before.”
One-half of knowing what you want is knowing what you must give up before you get it. – Sidney Howard
Steve Jobs on Saying NO
Steve Jobs was famously as proud of the products he didn’t pursue as he was of the transformative products Apple created. In the two years after his return in 1997, he took the company from 350 products to ten. That’s 340 nos, not counting anything else proposed during that period. At the 1997 MacWorld Developers Conference, he explained, “When you think about focusing, you think, ‘Well, focusing is saying yes.’ No! Focusing is about saying no.” Jobs was after extraordinary results and he knew there was only one way to get there. Jobs was a “no” man.
When you think about focusing, you think, ‘Well, focusing is saying yes.’ No! Focusing is about saying no.
The art of saying yes is, by default, the art of saying no. Saying yes to everyone is the same as saying yes to nothing. Each additional obligation chips away at your effectiveness at everything you try. So the more things you do, the less successful you are at any one of them. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try. In fact, when you try, the one person you absolutely won’t please is yourself.
Seth Godin on Saying NO
Master marketer Seth Godin says, “You can say no with respect, you can say no promptly, and you can say no with a lead to someone who might say yes. But just saying yes because you can’t bear the short-term pain of saying no is not going to help you do the work.” Godin gets it. You can keep your yes and say no in a way that works for you and for others.
Bill Cosby on Saying NO
In a 1977 article in Ebony magazine, the incredibly successful comedian Bill Cosby summed up this productivity thief perfectly. As he was building his career, Cosby read some advice that he took to heart: “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” This is advice worth living by. If you can’t say no a lot, you’ll never truly be able to say yes to achieving your ONE Thing. Literally, it’s one or the other—and you get to decide.
I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody. – Bill Cosby
In his great book, “The Motivation Manifesto.” Brendon Burchard, writes :
In dealing with the needs of others while maintaining our life’s agenda, we must learn the stunning power of no. There is no rule written anywhere that says we must say yes to every passing request that crosses our desks or burns in our ears from a crying whiner.
This is not to say we cannot be loving and responsible to those who need us and when it brings us joy. If loving and caring for specific people is exactly what we find meaningful, then we must do just that. Taking the girls to soccer is not a distraction if it brings meaning to our days. However, we must not allow the world’s distractions, casual loiterers, or random opportunities to constantly rob us of our intended day.
“For most, not knowing how to say no is where their lives decline into a thicket of stress and unhappiness. These individuals are easy to spot, as they constantly take on the role of victim to the world’s desires. Their life appears to be an industrial slog, ticking off the tasks handed to them by others. They may appear frazzled and frenetic, choked in the tightening clutch of deadlines they did not choose or plan. They often appear to be awaiting instruction and direction, thus their schedule is really more holding pattern than action plan. They get stuck in life because they never rise above their timid desires to please others. Their only true effort is to fit into the wants and schedules of the world and so there is no purposeful art or arc to their week, year, decade, or life. Theirs is a groaning, grueling life under the weight of other people’s control and expectations.”
“Vigilance will be needed because there will always be those needy few who can smell our desire to please. They will attack like black ravens from the sky, diving again and again as they devour our lives piece by piece. This is the guy at the office who is constantly asking for another random favor, the former girlfriend always calling with drama and in need of rescue, the entitled employee whom we helped once and now refuses to lift a finger to do real work.”
“These people will keep coming at us and they do not care about our agenda or destiny. Their opportunism will plague us should we not be intentional in saying no and no and no. We must learn to reply artfully and often forcefully to those who are always saying, “I’m so sorry to have to ask you for one more little favor.” To them, let us reply, “I cannot help right now. I have plans that cannot wait or accommodate your sudden emergency.”
“In saying this, we need not apologize any more than we need to apologize to the person who runs into our car when we had the right of way. We can be artful if we must: “I do wish I could help, but unfortunately I am unable to get to your last-minute request because my plate is full with long-ago scheduled activities and projects that that I have already committed to.”
How we handle the enemies of our own progress speaks to our character and independence. We are doomed if we subordinate our day’s agenda to their every request or crisis. In meeting their needs, which are usually false deadlines or urgencies created only by their lack of preparation or responsibility, we lose an irrecoverable hour that could have propelled our own life forward. For these reasons, we must reclaim our agenda with a forceful grip. We must look to the world’s random pushy people, the countless needy people, the people not on our list of those we want to love, care for, and attend to. It cannot be overstated: We must not fear saying, “No, I cannot help you now.”
All of us struggle to some degree with saying no. There are many reasons. We want to be helpful. We don’t want to be hurtful. We want to be caring and considerate. We don’t want to seem callous and cold. All of this is totally understandable. Being needed is incredibly satisfying, and helping others can be deeply fulfilling. Focusing on our own goals to the exclusion of others, especially the causes and the people we value the most, can feel downright selfish and self-centered. But it doesn’t have to.
On your quest to becoming successful, a lot of request, invitations, and opportunities would always come your way. The ability to say NO is one of the keys to remaining successful for a very long time.
All the best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.