The word “No” is considered taboo by many people who think that the only socially-acceptable response to a request is a resounding “Yes!”
These people soon realize that they’re biting more than they can chew and can’t seem to ward off the onslaught of dishes coming their way. After all, if people are accustomed to hearing you say “Yes,” then they can safely assume that you’re still hungry for more work.
The traditional advice given to people dealing with unhealthy amounts of work is that they should learn to say “No.”
Some “experts” give ratios of how many “Yeses” to “Nos” we should be using, and advise us to tip the scale towards the latter.
The more “Nos” you use, the less work you have to deal with, and the more you can focus on work that matters.
But the problem isn’t what response you use. A misplaced “No” is as harmful as a reluctant “Yes” (even if their consequences differ in kind).
The question you should be asking yourself is: What am I basing my response on?
Do you fear offending others when you turn them down?
Do you want to build a reputation for being the go-to guy/gal in your organization?
Are you trading a “Yes” today for one from others tomorrow?
Do you not have a valid reason to say “No”?
What makes it difficult for you to say “No” instead of “Yes”?
There is no reason to learn to say “No” if “No” isn’t the right answer.
Instead of learning to say “No” you should learn to say “No” when it’s appropriate and to say “Yes” when it’s appropriate, given your values, interests, current commitments, time and effort required for the task requested and other factors that you need to base your decision on.
People often respect a response coupled with a valid reason.
One of the most irritating responses in the world is a “No” followed by a vacuum (children pick up on how annoying this is at an early age). The person requesting your assistance usually needs a reason why you’re turning them down. And in almost all cases it’s never the “No” that offends people. It’s the lack of a valid reason.
“No” and “Sorry”
A better alternative to a “No” is usually an apology.
Yes, even when you don’t need to apologize. I know that your time is your time and people don’t have the right to your time or effort.
But an apology expresses intent. You would love to help, but you want to be realistic with your resources. You want to be passionate about the projects you take on. You want to ensure that you can deliver on your promises. You can’t, so you apologize.
“Sorry I can’t. I already have my hands full with a project I’m working on.”
Consider more lenient responses that work just as well as a “No” and are more respectful towards others. That way, even when turning others down they still walk away having gained a sense of respect from their interaction with you.
Don’t learn to say “No.”
Learn when to say “No” (or its equivalent), and how to communicate your reasons effectively and respectfully to others.