7 Ways to Say No (for People Pleasers!) – Oprah Mag

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You’ll be using #2 all the time.
We’ve all been there: A friend of a friend wants to “pick your brain” about doing her taxes; your roommate invites you to come along to an awkward dinner party to be their human shield; a former colleague has a “really wonderful” professional opportunity that involves your doing a whole lot of unpaid labor. Not wanting to be rude, you either say yes (and hate yourself), pretend you didn’t see the email (and feel rude), or demur: “Oh, little old me? I don’t know how to do that! I’m useless!” (and wonder why you feel the need to diminish yourself in order to be polite).
Instead, try these tested strategies for setting boundaries that leave you feeling empowered, kind, and able to make the best use of your own free time.
Say you’re contacted by a neophyte in your field who’s looking for advice, and they ask you to review their résumé and give them ideas of where to send it. Respond with some links for job boards or newsletters they might not know about, or forward an invite to a schmoozy industry event they might want to go to. If you find you get approached about the same kind of thing frequently, it’s totally fair to retain a boilerplate response to send each time.

Communications strategist Michael Thompson has a simple go-to: “Thanks for thinking of me. It sounds cool, but I’m trying to limit my commitments to save myself from eating myself. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.” He notes that most responses are “I totally get that.” We’re all overwhelmed, and we all think we are supposed to be overwhelmed. It’s validating when we hear someone else say what we’ve been thinking—What if we didn’t have to play this game?—especially when they do it in a casual, funny way.
“Due to our fear of sounding abrupt, rude, or difficult,” says Natalie Lue, life coach and author of The Joy of Saying No, “we often fall into the trap of storytelling, making excuses, and even guilting the other party.” A “soft no” allows us to refuse something in a polite but firm way, by offering the tiniest explanation. It works particularly well in an interpersonal scenario—for instance, when your aunt is visiting your city and wonders if you can meet her for lunch (across town, during your sync with your boss). Lue explains, “Soft noes are for people who you know are likely to accept your first no instead of pressing you to change your mind or getting offended. Deliver your soft no in more than three or four sentences. Start with saying no, briefly explain your reasoning without turning it into a big story or making them or you feel bad, and then restate your no.” An example? “No, I can’t that day. I’m already really stacked and will need to get an early night to avoid exhausting myself.”
In his TEDx talk, author Ryan Holiday points out that every time we say yes to something, we’re saying no to something else. If we agree to go out for drinks after work, we’re saying no to tucking in the kids. If we spend a Sunday morning looking at a friend’s business plan, we’re saying no to the yoga class or leisurely walk we would have liked to do instead. You can note this without laying it on too thick and making the requester feel bad. In fact, they probably don’t even need to hear the reason—you just need to know it, so you can remember why this boundary is so important to keep.
Things can get a little squishy when you get asked to do something you do professionally in a nonprofessional setting. Freelancer Anna Codrea-Rado has a novel solution: She charges a “pick-your-brain fee.” She writes that she’s often found herself having coffee dates with people in her field that she later realized were actually pro bono consulting sessions, and she’d leave feeling taken advantage of. She happened upon a solution when she responded to a request to “chat” by asserting that she’d “need to be paid for it. As a freelancer, I explained, it simply wasn’t viable for me to help pro bono, but if he wanted to hire me as a consultant, I’d welcome the discussion. He said he’d get back to me with a budget.” As long as you really wouldn’t mind doing the paid session, it’s a win-win.
Not to brag, but at an old job, I was the holiday cookie contest champion two—yes, two— years in a row. Obviously, I did, in fact, brag about this incessantly and gained a bit of a reputation. But when a coworker asked if I would participate in a neighborhood cookie swap, that was a whole other ball of cookie dough. While I was flattered at the invite, it involved baking six dozen cookies (in my tiny apartment kitchen?) and then going to a social event, right around the holidays, when my schedule was already packed. After peering into an abyss of overwhelm, I realized I could simply say, “I love baking, but I just don’t bake in bulk.” Not I can’t, but I don’t. Worked like a charm.
When all else fails, use E.B. White’s classic “I must decline, for secret reasons.” (Bonus: More devastating refusals from writers via Letters of Note.)

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