by Kate Wolfe Maxlow
Maybe you've been asked to chair the PTA, or to work on the weekend when you already had plans to go out of town, or babysit your nephew for free for the 10th time this month. You're at the point where you're creeping around corners or avoiding looking at texts in fear of The Ask, because you know that you know you won't be able to say "no."
Look, I abhor conflict, too. I want to shrink into my nonexistent shell and stay in there forever. Then I went through some personal life stuff and took over some job responsibilities where I suddenly had to say "no" in a way that was firm AND preserved relationships.
Of course, I didn't think it was possible at first: telling someone "no" without them hating me forever. Nevertheless, I had to do it, so through some research and trial and error, I figured out some basic tenets to make the entire process less painful for everyone involved.
1. Say "no" quickly and remember that you are not the only person in the world who can do things.
If you put off saying "no" because you fear the conflict, you're actually doing the person asking two disservices: you're saying "no" AND you're giving them less time to find an alternative.
You are most likely NOT the person's only hope...but if you want them to have that hope, give them as much time as possible to figure out another plan.
If you put off and put off getting back to the person, and then you ALSO tell them "no," you're a lot more likely to cause some hard feelings.
2. Cite your values--both what you appreciate about the request AND the conflicting value that prevents you from doing it.
This is probably the best thing you can do to maintain the relationship while not being a doormat. For instance:
"Oh, I wish I could make those cupcakes for teacher appreciation week, but I've promised my kids I would take them to the amusement park this weekend and I need to honor that promise."
"This conference in Cancun looks amazing! As you know, our organization has made a pledge to fiscal responsibility this year, and therefore we are only able to fund certain business trips that align with our organization's initiatives. Therefore, as wonderful as this conference looks, we are unfortunately not able to fund your request at this time."
"Honey, I've made a promise to this family to get myself in shape so that I can be with you and the kids for years to come. For that reason, instead of going out with your friends after work tonight, I need you to come home and watch the kids like we discussed."
"I think going out this weekend for a girls night would be great. It's been a tough week at work and I know myself and know I need some introverted hermit time if I'm going to be any fun the next time we go out, so I'm going to have to skip this one."
3. Offer an alternative--but only if you really mean it and won't resent the person for taking you up on it. Give specifics so you don't feel like you're on the hook for something else you don't want to do.
"I'd be happy to kick in some ingredient money to help whoever can make the cupcakes. Just let me know where to PayPal my $20!"
"Let me know if you're interested in a list of local conferences that we feel can help further our organization's initiatives, and I'll be happy to pass them along."
"I do know how important it is for you to see your friends, though, so when I get home from the gym and the kids are in bed, let's set up a time for you to do that."
"I hope you all have a great time tonight! My big project at work will be done at the end of the month. Want to plan something for the first weekend next month? That should give you time to recover from whatever shenanigans you all get into tonight :) "
Most likely, your friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances are resourceful, intelligent people who can figure out solutions. Say "yes" when you can, when it makes sense, when you're able, but you don't have to shy away from standing up for yourself, either. In the end, the world will keep turning, and everyone will feel better for you not having made commitments that you end up resenting down the road.
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