Saying “No”

“Its only by saying “No” That you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”

Steve Jobs

Being an Intovert for better part of my life, I have always found it hard to say no.

My Colleague: ” Hey you wanna go out in the evening to see Dasara Lightings ? Everyone in the office are headed that way! “(The Entire City I grew up in – Mysuru, lights up every year around Oct for a festival called Dasara)

In my mind ( do I really wanna spend my evening getting smushed in the endless crowd of people? Do I really wanna navigate thru a maze of One ways and restricted roads? Do I really have to bare the unbreathable conditions to get a decent meal at the end of the tour?)

Me: Why not. Sounds fun!

Warren Buffett became the most successful investor of all time by being hyper selective. He owes 90% of his wealth to just 10 investments. For every 100 opportunities that comes his way, he says no to 99 of them.

One of the greatest management consultant who lived in the last 100 years, Peter Drucker, once said, “People are effective because they say ‘no,’ because they say, ‘this isn’t for me.’ ’’

We are all presented with ‘good opportunities’ during our lifetime, but which of those opportunities are truly essential to our lives?

“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying ‘yes’ too quickly and not saying no soon enough.”

Josh Billings

Greg McKeown, in his book, Essentialism, proposes an idea of a “Essentialist”

“A non-essentialist thinks almost everything is essential. An essentialist thinks almost everything is non-essential.”

He puts forth 4 habits which we can develop to be an Essentialist; but before that, lets understand what makes us say Yes, when we really want to say No:

  1. Why do we say ‘Yes’ when we want to say ‘No’?

a. We forget our purpose

When we are unclear about our real purpose in life— in other words, when we don’t have a clear sense of our goals, our aspirations, and our values— we make up our own social games.

Without a clear purpose we’ll default to playing petty social games that provide little meaning to our life.

b. We fear social awkwardness

The fact is, we as humans are wired to want to get along with others. After all, thousands of years ago when we all lived in tribes of hunter gatherers, our survival depended on it. And while conforming to what people in a group expect of us— what psychologists call normative conformity— is no longer a matter of life and death, the desire is still deeply ingrained in us.

2. How can we develop the courage to say ‘No’?

We need to see ‘No’ in a new and empowering way:

a. When we say ‘No,’ we’re actually saying ‘Yes’ to a life of meaning.

Each external ‘No’ is an inward ‘Yes.’ Those inward ‘Yes’s’ strengthen our commitment to our purpose/priorities, defining who we are and what we stand for.

b. When we say ‘No,’ we’re actually saying ‘No’ to a request, not a person.

Everyone is selling something— an idea, a viewpoint, an opinion— in exchange for your time. Simply being aware of what is being sold allows us to be more deliberate in deciding whether we want to buy it…we forget that denying the request is not the same as denying the person. Only once we separate the decision from the relationship can we make a clear decision and then separately find the courage and compassion to communicate it.

c. When we say ‘No,’ we’re trading short-term popularity for long-term respect.

When the initial annoyance or disappointment or anger wears off, the respect kicks in. When we push back effectively, it shows people that our time is highly valuable. It distinguishes the professional from the amateur. Learn to say no firmly, resolutely, and yet gracefully. Because once we do, we find, not only that our fears of disappointing or angering others were exaggerated, but that people actually respect us more. Research has found it almost universally true that people respect and admire those with the courage of conviction to say no.

3. What’s the best way to say ‘No’ without damaging a relationship?

You need to frame your ‘No’ as a ‘Positive No’:

  • Start with a personal ‘Yes’ by stating a personal priority.
    • “I’m currently working hard to finish my project ” OR “I’ve set the ambitious goal of completing this assignment, within the next week.”
  • Continue by stating the conflict with your personal priority.
    • “Because of that, I need to say no to all requests at this time.”  OR “For that reason, I need to let go of a lot of things and devote my time and attention to doing the best to successful complete this project .”
  • Finish by showing that you still care and offer to help out in a small way.
    • “Here are a few resources that I found to help your project succeed.” OR “Although I can’t assist you with this project I can introduce you to someone who can.”

Getting Back to the 4 Habits I mentioned above;

  1. Evaluate the trade-offs

“We just say yes because it is an easy reward, we run the risk of having to later say no to a more meaningful one.”

Each choice has a trade-off. When we say yes to one thing, we are saying no to another. The next time you want to say yes to an opportunity just remember what other opportunities you are saying no to.

“We can try to avoid the reality of trade-offs, but we can’t escape them. Trade-offs are not something to be ignored or decried. They are something to be embraced and made deliberately, strategically, and thoughtfully.”

2. Set boundaries

“Nonessentialists tend to think of boundaries as constraints or limits, things that get in the way of their hyperproductive life. To a Nonessentialist, setting boundaries is evidence of weakness. Essentialists, on the other hand, see boundaries as empowering. They recognize that boundaries protect their time from being hijacked and often free them from the burden of having to say no to things that further others’ objectives instead of their own.”

Create black and white rules, like “I don’t take calls between 7-10am, sorry,” or “I don’t check email after 6pm. If it’s something urgent, you’ll need to call me.” People will initially challenge your boundaries, but overtime, people will respect your boundaries. With the right boundaries in place, you can prevent the non-essential from creeping into your life.

3. Dare to say ‘No’

“We feel guilty. We don’t want to let someone down. We are worried about damaging the relationship. But these emotions muddle our clarity. They distract us from the reality of the fact that either we can say no and regret it for a few minutes, or we can say yes and regret it for days, weeks, months, or even years…Since becoming an Essentialist I have found it almost universally true that people respect and admire those with the courage of conviction to say no.”

Develop the courage to say ‘no’ by remembering what you are saying ‘yes’ to:

  • “No, I don’t want to take on another project because I want to ensure my current project is a huge success.”
  • “No, I don’t want to go out tonight because I want to spend time with my family.”

4. Schedule time to journal

Rushing around all day trying to get things done causes us to lose perspective. The more stress we accumulate during the day, the more we mistake non-essential things as urgent and important. To prevent the non-essential from creeping into our lives, we need to schedule a time where we can disconnect and renew our outlook on life. A reliable way to regain perspective is journaling.

Journaling allows us to get the petty stuff down on paper so we can start focusing on the bigger picture. By spending a few minutes journal each day, we increase our introspection and start to question why we do what we do. “Being a journalist(No pun Intended) of your own life will force you to stop hyper-focusing on all the minor details and see the bigger picture.”

“Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritize

Greg McKeown

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