THE BLOG

How to Say 'No' in Business and Your Personal Life

04/16/2014 01:33 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2014
Paul Bradbury via Getty Images

Every woman has likely heard the phrase, "you can't have it all," at least once in her life, and upon hearing these infamous words, she has taken a moment to reevaluate and strategize ways in which she will become the exception. We strive to be the best at everything we do, often taking on more than we should as those haunting words leave us afraid to say "no." However, deciding to forgo an invitation or express that you are unable to take on an additional task because your plate is already full should not be viewed as an act of defeat. On the contrary, being able to assert yourself and knowing "when to say when" is a trait that many wish to possess. Those who do possess this admirable quality can attest to the ongoing benefits of saying "no," not only in their business lives, but in their personal lives as well. The following tips can help you recognize when to say "no" and how to do so effectively.

1. Trust your instincts.
We're told from a young age to trust our instincts and to follow our gut in moments of uncertainty, so why don't we deem this advice valuable once we reach adulthood and we are faced with decisions that are truly difficult? We all get that feeling in the pit of our stomach when we're asked to do something or go somewhere and it just doesn't feel right. For some odd reason, we find ourselves fighting against that oh-so-familiar feeling, only to hear the infamous three-letter word, "yes," jump out of our mouths. One big moment where I should've listened to my gut was a week before my wedding. I had the strongest feeling that it just wasn't going to work. I literally said out loud while standing in front of my bathroom mirror, "this won't last," as my eye twitched uncontrollably from nervousness, and my stomach was in knots. Yet, I still went through with it. We don't need to be afraid when our gut tells us to use the word "no," instead, we need to trust that knee-jerk reaction as this small word can make a big difference in one's quality of life. Next time you have the gut feeling that something doesn't feel right, listen to it and honor it.

2. Be honest.
Being honest can sometimes be difficult because you don't want to offend the other person or hurt their feelings. However, you're doing a disservice to yourself and others if you are not being truthful. In the past, I have come up with lies as to why I couldn't be here or there and in the end I didn't feel good about myself. Now, I have made a commitment to be honest and offer an explanation as to why I cannot or do not want to do something. For example, a friend of mine recently asked me to participate in a yoga class with her. I used to be a yogi and I loved it, but I have since developed other interests and I don't enjoy it as much. My old self would have said, "yes," because I wanted to make her happy and be a good friend even though I knew that I would be miserable, but my new self said, "I love you and I'm so happy you found something you enjoy but unfortunately, I am just not feeling it. I hope you understand. Let's meet up for coffee afterwards!" My friend understood and was not offended, which made me realize that it's mutually beneficial to be honest. You shouldn't be afraid to express how you truly feel, because people rarely get offended when you're honest with them and those that do are not worth pleasing.

3. Clarify priorities.
I tend to lean more towards having a Type A personality, as I always feel a sense of urgency when it comes to completing tasks. Therefore, it was life-changing for me when I learned to properly prioritize.I typically make a to-do list and arrange tasks according to level of importance. I also invested in something so small yet so effective -- a whiteboard where I list my goals for the week, month or year and cross them out as each goal is reached. Now I feel much more productive, and I am holding myself accountable. As a result, my stress level has decreased significantly. There's only so much time allotted in one day, so don't dig yourself into a hole because you're afraid of losing an opportunity or you want to be agreeable. Know what your priorities are, and say "no" to what is not important.

4. Realize that whenever you say yes to something, it means that you're saying no to something else.
We all have moments in life where we say "yes" to things that we really wish we had said "no" to. As women, these moments tend to occur more often as it seems that we have an innate desire to nurture, putting the needs of others before our own. Newsflash: You are not a failure just because you can't stay late at the office or house-sit for a friend while they are out of town. You can come to this realization rather easily by reminding yourself that whenever you say yes to something, it means that you're saying no to something else. For example, if you say yes to staying late at the office, that means you are saying no to dinner with your family. Being true to yourself and meeting your personal needs should come first. Adhering to this advice often leaves us feeling selfish, but when you choose to do otherwise, you are the one that suffers. I grew up in a culture where the needs of others always came first and the consequence of such a drastic way of living was my lack of well-being. Falling into a deep depression and battling anorexia was a direct result of the loss of self that I felt after a lifetime of people pleasing. To be a true empowered woman, you must first listen to yourself and your needs. Only then will you be able to fulfill the needs of others.

For those who equate learning to say "no" with fighting an uphill battle, simply envision the increase in confidence and alleviation of stress that you will undoubtedly feel, and the thought of using that two-letter word will become a battle that you know you can win!