How to say no, nicely

With today’s relentless workload, sometimes the best thing for your mental health and productivity, is to say no. Being assertive means standing up for yourself, or others, and communicating what you think and feel, in a calm and positive way, without aggression. 

If you develop these skills, you will be better able to get your point across without upsetting others, or becoming upset yourself. 

In the ‘managing workload’ section of the Manage Workplace Stress course, I offer 13 tips about this, but here are my top five:

  1. Be clear about your values, purpose and motivation. The starting point for each of us is to be clear about what we’re on the planet for, and how this translates into daily actions and responses. If this underpins what you do, how and why, and you’re pretty sure you feel right about it, you’ll be much more confident in communicating with others. (There’s a specific exercise on values towards the end of the Manage Workplace Stress course).
  2. Speak up. Don’t be passive, or let bad habits become entrenched or resentment build. Whilst staying friendly, challenge anything that seems wrong to you as soon as it happens. This could be about what you’re being asked to so, or how you’re being asked. If you stay quiet, the person in question to will probably assume that everything is ok.
  3. Clarify what’s possible and ask for what you need. For example if your line manager or a client asks you to have the work done by the end of tomorrow and you know that will not be possible time-wise, just ask for more time. That will show that you are responsible and reliable, which is much better than saying yes and then not delivering on time.
  4. Listen well, and ask well.Mindful listening skills are critical for both parties where a problem may be arising. Both parties need to make sure that they understand the views and needs of each other, without interruption or jumping-in with a reactive response. Part of good listening is enquiry, where you ask for more clarification or go deeper into anything where mis-communication is a risk (mindful listening is explored further in the course).
  5. Have compassion for everyone.We all have bad days, bad weeks, get sick, get stressed and have other problems in our lives. See through the behaviour and step into the shoes of the other person. Being compassionate, for yourself and others, is a great way to deal with stressful times. Remember that your line manager, directors, clients and anyone you are helping, may have their own stresses, pressures and anxieties. Together, in a spirit of collaboration rather than conflict, you can agree what’s really needed, realistic and achievable.

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