When I first started out freelancing and working for myself, I was determined that I would follow every single opportunity that was given to me. Small jobs, pro bono work, stuff I was nervous to take on for one reason or another – I said yes to all of it. And while this “say YES” attitude is important and can be hugely helpful in establishing yourself in a certain career or space, it’ll inevitably cause a lot of time, headache and heartache.
What I quickly realized is that I am (at least in a business sense) a people pleaser. I really strive to go the extra mile for my clients and genuinely try to make sure they are happy with the product or service I have provided. And for 99% of the people I work with, I feel like I have been able to manage that pretty successfully. But for the odd client or request that requires more of me than I know deep down I can reasonably give, I find myself struggling. Learning to say no was something I had to prioritize to make sure I wasn’t sabotaging myself.
Now don’t get me wrong, wanting to please people is not an intrinsically a bad thing. It satisfies a need in all of us to be helpful (and as helpful as possible), and for a lot of situations it’s an entirely admirable quality. But feeling compelled to say YES to everything at the expense of other’s needs (especially your own needs) is where this sort of thing can become problematic. You can get pulled in a million different directions and feel swamped under mountains of commitment.
For me, it’ll inevitably lead to letting someone down; I’ll get sucked into helping a client with stationary design when the original contract was for a web design, putting more hours in to the project. What I’ve got planned for the next day will be bumped further down the to-do list. Maybe that weekend I had wide open to spend with friends and family is now eaten up by things I need to catch up on – all because I hadn’t realized that learning to say no was in fact an acquired skill.
Learning to Say No – Tips and Tricks
You can teach yourself to say “no” without being an a**hole. Here are some simple strategies to help:
1. Understand your own priorities
Be clear in identifying and recognizing what is most important to you. Whether you frame it by “What’s most important to me today?” or something more substantial like “What do I want to accomplish this year?” – it’s all about priorities. Having a clear idea of goals and objectives will leave you more capable of deciding where you want to spend your time, and conversely, where you don’t want to spend your time.
2. Be graceful with your No
Most people requesting your help or service do it because they know that you’re the gal to get the job done. They trust you and believe in your capabilities. So whenever I’m approached with a job or task that I have to say no to, I make sure I am appreciative of the request and thank them for thinking of me.
3. Be clear with your No
Without going into too much detail (you don’t have to explain exactly why your saying no to this request vs. other requests), clearly assert why you can’t help. It could be as simple as “I just don’t have time right now.” This is easier to comprehend than just a flat out no.
4. Be Firm
People can be pushy and that’s not something you can control. But stand firm in your decisions. If you cave into a request that you initially say no to, people will learn that all you need is a twist of the arm to be convinced. That’ll just bring more of that kind of unwanted noise into your life. Stand strong in your decisions!
5. Know that it’s okay to miss out
This was one of the hardest things for me to overcome. Saying no to opportunities always gave me that “what if” sensation – thinking that I was missing out on a project that mind turn into a huge unforeseen opportunity. But remember that it’s not so much missing out, its more of a trade-off. Saying no to one request frees yourself to focus on other things that might also turn into something really fruitful.
Any other rehabbed people pleasers out there? Is learning to say no something you are working on?