Published in March, 2016 Invenio magazine

Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best.
John C. Maxwell

To most people I know, saying ‘no’ is the most difficult thing in the world to do.  It’s normally because when you say ‘no’ you feel as though are hurting someone else, or leaving them in the lurch, or disappointing them, or maybe even feel as though you are jeopardising your relationship with them.  Whatever it is, it means that you are thinking of them before you are thinking about yourself.

yesnomaybeSaying ‘yes’ may seem like the simplest solution for these reasons, but often it is not your best answer.  You have 1,440 minutes in a day or 10,080 minutes in a week and each time you say ‘yes’ to something, you are saying ‘no’ to something else.  Even when you are saying ‘yes’ to something that you really want to do, you are saying ‘no’ to something else.

As coaches and mentors, each one of us works with clients who have to find that way to say ‘no’.  I learnt how to do this the hard way.  I started my own business in 2000 and because, as a lot of small business owners will know, I said yes to a lot of business opportunities.  They all seemed fabulous.  They all seemed that they were a right fit for my business.  They all seemed to be the diversity I needed to bring in a regular stream of income.  Some were and some weren’t!

It took me about 8 years to realise that I had to learn how to stop doing this.  Eight hard and long years, when I was being pulled in multiple directions by multiple people, all of whom had their own agendas and none of who had my agenda.

I remember sitting on a beach in Madeira meditating about my business.  Personally I was going through a not so great time.  I had left my husband.  I had left the home I had just spent 2 years working with builders to rebuild.  I was living in a rented studio apartment.  I was in the middle of a divorce process.  In all the stress of what had been going on, I had let my business go.  I stopped working at it.  Here I was sitting on the beach just letting the waves wash words over me.  I was letting my mind drift.  I became aware of the word ‘NO’!  It seemed to be repeating itself over and over and over and over and over again. NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!

No to what?  As I had driven down to the beach I had been thinking about restarting my business.  I had been thinking about all the clients I had, the projects I had been working on, the colleagues I had partnerships with, and trying to work out how to start it all again.

NO! had been to starting it all again.  NO! had been about going back down the same path.  NO! had been saying ‘yes’ to things I didn’t really want to be doing.

march-2016I got back into my studio apartment and picked up a blank pad of paper, several coloured pens, and walked out onto the balcony.  I could still hear the waves.  I started to write down in two formats the words I could hear in the waves.  The first was just in a list format and the second was in more of a mind mapping format.  A mind map is simple a doodle in the form of a diagram that allows you to connect words in a visual format.  The words in the centre were my company name.  The dots leading away were all the businesses or projects I wanted to stay involved in.  The list were all those businesses or projects that I did not want to stay involved in. 

wineAs the sun started to set, with a glass of wine, I reviewed what I had drawn and written.  It didn’t take me long to realise that I had to say ‘no’ to the list.  I was coming to the end of a difficult time in my life and I knew that I had to let go people and projects that were not positive.

Me?  Yes!  My friends talk about me as the most positive person they know.  I look at life in a very positive manner, yet here I was working with people and doing things that I really didn’t want to do.  I was doing them because I was afraid of either letting that person down or losing them as a friend and/or colleague.

Who is important here?  Me?  Them?  As a coach and a mentor I know that when I am working with clients, it is the client who is important; but it’s human nature to put them first.

Learning to say NO is a process which starts with putting you into the most important person position in your life.

  1. You are the most important person to you. To live the life of your dreams, you have to put yourself first – over and above everyone else.
  2. Learn to respect yourself. By learning to respect yourself, you learn to respect your time.  You will learn how to say ‘no’ to those things that are not a good match for your passions and interests.
  3. Recognise when you say ‘yes’ and you would have preferred to say ‘no’.
  4. Be clear of your passion, your interests, and your vision.
  5. Understand the impact of saying ‘yes’ on you.
  6. Understand the impact of saying ‘no’ on you and on the person asking.
  7. Confirm to yourself that it is OK to say ‘no’.
  8. Initially when you start to say ‘no’, use the communication method you are most comfortable with – SMS, text message, Facebook chat, emailing, WhatsApp, face-2-face, or any other.
  9. KISS – as they say ‘Keep it simple stupid’. Just say ‘no’.  Don’t provide an explanation.
  10. When you are responding to a request or question or offer always respond in a respectful manner.  This shows that you value the other persons request and appreciate that they asked you.
  11. The image at the beginning of this article shows ‘yes’, ‘no’, and ‘maybe’. Even though you have selected to say ‘no’, you may wish to propose an alternative.  This alternative could be another person for them to ask, a different date/time for you to get involved, or an alternative solution.
  12. Sometimes we are too available. If, for example, you are trying to reduce the number of people you want to work with as clients, make yourself less accessible and maybe more exclusive.
  13. Trust your instincts. When you first hear the question or request, listen to your inner voice, your self-talk.  What did it say?  Often it will say ‘no’ but you will over-ride it and say ‘yes’.  If it says ‘no’, trust it and say ‘no’.
  14. Sometimes you may be able to delay your response. By doing this you may show a lack of interest, and the person asking may then go and ask someone else. 
  15. Don’t reply. If the request has come to you in the form of an email, don’t feel that you have to respond.  Sometimes this is difficult because the person asking, may ask again and again; but often it works as well as actually saying ‘no’.
  16. Write everything down. When I’m working with clients I use the SMARTER process and I ensure that they ‘record’ everything.  It helps.

These points are here to help you learn how to say ‘no’.  The one thing that I do now is make sure that I following point 16.  I have absolutely clarity (point 4) on what my business is – what projects I’m working on, which clients I’m working with, what businesses I’m in partnership with, and which businesses I’m involved with.  I have a small mind map on my desktop, laptop, iPad, and mobile phone which shows what I want to be doing.  Now when I get a new request I look at that first.  If it fits in, I ask for time to consider the request.  If it does not fit in, I say ‘no’.

Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones,
you’ll start having positive results.
Willie Nelson

By learning how to say ‘no’ I put myself first in my life.

Living the life of your dreams is a journey
of self-discovery and achievement!
© Barbara J. Cormack, Your Spiritual Coach
(excerpt from Creating Sustainable Change)

© 2016 Barbara J. Cormack.  All Rights Reserved.