HUMAN RESOURCES

Overextended? Here are 5 Polite Ways to Say No

Why stepping away from all of the external asks is important to your sanity and your business.
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It is getting harder and harder to avoid living a life of over commitment. Every email requires a response, every phone call ends up with more things to do, running a business is more complicated with responsibilities on a daily basis, we are required to attend more meetings, and our "to do" list just keeps getting longer.

One of the skills that most of us have to get better at is learning to master our commitments, and I like to think of this as mastering the art of deflection. Now this isn’t saying we will get out of our commitments, rather we will get better at prioritizing them, finding time to meet them, and developing new skills to put us back in the driving seat when it comes to deciding if we want to take a commitment or not.

Here are five strategies that I use on regular basis to overcome being over-committed:

1. When someone asks for your time, say you have to check your calendar.

Many people struggle to say no to a request for their time, simply because they feel that they are put on the spot when the request is made. Whenever someone asks me to do something, I always say that I have to check my diary and other commitments before I can confirm. This buys me time to decide if I want to commit to this particular request, if I have the time, how I would like it to work and so on. I never feel pressured to commit to anything now and I make much better decisions as result of having some room to think. 

2. Always ask for more information. 

Whenever someone is asking for advice or help in some way, I ask them to send through more information or more specific details and to explain exactly what they would like me to do and when they would like it done by? Once I receive this information I will make a decision. At least half the time I never hear from them again, which shows how committed they were. In other words I won’t commit time or energy until they do the same. 

3. Charge for your time.

As an author and presenter, I have a lot of people contacting me for free advice. Sometimes it can be as many as three hundred emails a week. These are generally in the form of questions about specific aspects of doing business. In the past I tried to answer every one, but it soon became apparent that I would go broke if I spent all of my time answering people’s questions for free. So I introduced a “One on One Package”. This is a $500 product where people can send me their questions and I would offer a Skype consultation and some of my books. I explain very nicely that I run a business that offers advice commercially and interestingly, about one in ten people buy the package. The rest I never hear from again. 

4. Tell a white lie.

I figured this one out many years ago. The day before leaving for a business trip was always incredibly stressful and over committed on every front. I started to tell a white lie about when I was leaving. Specifically I would say I was going a day earlier than I actually was. This gave me a full day in the office (or at home) to get everything done that I needed to do without the last minute panic of clients, suppliers and staff, needing my time. I still do this today, and I leave for every trip feeling relaxed and refreshed instead of stressed out and exhausted. 

5. Get creative at saying, "Sorry, no can do."

Often the hardest part about being asked to commit to something is how to say no without feeling rude. Several years ago I found that my not for profit pro bono work was getting out of hand. I was spending up to two full days a week doing free work for a handful of charities and it became apparent that if something didn’t change I would soon need the services provided by these organisations. I found saying no to any request for help very hard. So rather than saying no, I reframed how I could help the various charities. I decided to commit a maximum of 8 hours per week and once this was used, that was it. When I received a request for help, I would advise them of how I worked and they could book time in advance, but once I had reached 8 hours for any particular week I was fully committed and that was that. In essence this created a procedure that I could hide behind to help me say no without feeling guilty.

In the crazy fast paced world we live in, it is easy to commit ever minute of every day. Then if one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong. The compound effect is extremely stressful. In addition to saying "no" we need to find time in our day to play catch up. I suggest scheduling a one-hour time slot every morning and every afternoon to manage the unexpected.  I also schedule at least one day a month to do nothing but work through my pile of incompletes and I have to say it is very therapeutic. 

The better we become at managing commitment, the more effective we will be every aspect of our life. 

Last updated: Apr 9, 2014

ANDREW GRIFFITHS | Columnist | Serial entrepreneur and author

Andrew Griffiths is a Cairns, Australia-based serial entrepreneur and the author of 11 books about starting, managing, and growing small companies. For more Andrew, check out www.andrewgriffiths.com.au.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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