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How Do I Say No?

Let Me Count The Ways...

Many of my coaching clients and workshop participants struggle with taking consistent action toward their most important goals. These are already successful people who assume that, in order to succeed, they need to simply "find more time" - to somehow squeeze just a few more minutes, one more hour out of their already overcrowded warp speed lives.

Unconsciously, automatically, we tend to say "yes" to nearly every request made of us. We believe the myth that we can do, have, and be everything we desire and visualize, as long as we're willing to "work" at it. So, we continue plugging away - diligently pushing and scrambling. We skimp on self-care - sleeping less, eating poorly, and taking little or no time to exercise or simply relax. We are constantly torn between our work and our personal lives. All the while, we bombard ourselves with constant self-criticism and judgment (we all know the steps to that rumba with the "should" gremlins!).

Sooner or later, we realize this isn't working - and yet we're so used our default communication behavior that we can't figure out how else to reply. Here are a few suggestions.

#1. Understand AND USE the three OTHER ways of responding to a request.

In addition to saying "yes" you can:

Here are some examples:

  1. Your spouse asks you to pick up the dry cleaning on your way home from work.
    1. "Gee, I'm sorry sweetie, my schedule is so tight today I'm just not going to be able to get there before they close."
    2. "I can't get there today; I'll be able to stop by tomorrow. Does that work for you?"
    3. "Could we group all our errands together and do them Saturday morning? We could go out for breakfast and spend some time together. I've been missing you."
  2. Colleagues have asked you to chair a committee of your professional organization.
    1. "I promised my (coach, spouse, kids, -self) that I wouldn't commit to any additional volunteer work this year - I'm already overloaded. I'm honored that you asked, though. Perhaps another time."
    2. "I can't commit to chairing, but I'd be glad to be ON the committee. I could spare about 2-3 hours a month. Would that be useful?"
    3. "Being on a committee doesn't work for me right now. What about my writing a 400 word article for the newsletter every month?"

#2. Make a distinction between a REQUEST and a DEMAND.

Check yourself out to see if you are automatically assuming and responding as if you were being ordered to do something, even when that isn't the case. Do others behave and speak as if they have that expectation? Where is the pressure coming from-you or them?

#3. Ask yourself -

"If I say YES to this, what am I saying NO to? If I say NO, what am I saying YES to?"

"It's easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than it is to think yourself into a new way of acting."

Jo Berry

Known as the "Conscious Communicator", Nancy Gerber is founder and President of SteppingStones, based in Norcross, Georgia. She is a Professional Certified Coach, popular speaker and seminar leader and internationally published writer. Nancy has nearly thirty years experience helping people and organizations enhance their communication, relationships and community building. She's committed to providing immediately useful, practical information and ideas -- "The important stuff they never taught us in school." In this age of increasing electronic connectivity, her mission is to help people deepen their human connections. Contact her at 770-931-4514, or visit to sign up for her FREE e-mail newsletter, "Thoughts For A Thursday", four paragraphs of weekly motivation and inspiration.