How to say no (and only no).

About a year ago I received a call from someone wanting me to do a mailing within my neighborhood for a charity organization. At the time, I was helping with the care of my mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s type dementia. I explained to the caller that I was the primary caregiver for my mother, that my mother had Alzheimer’s disease, and that free time did not exist in my world.

Believe it or not, the caller went on to say that it would only take me about an hour to address the envelopes and surely I could find that much time to help their organization. As I listened to all her prepackaged comebacks for subjects that didn’t answer “yes,” I thought about some sound advice I had been given years before and how I had forgotten to apply it with this caller.

When the woman finally took a breath, I interjected this question: “Excuse me, but have you ever cared for an Alzheimer’s patient, even for as little as 24 hours?” The phone went silent. After a few seconds, she mumbled what I think was an apology and hung up.

You’ve probably experienced the above scenario many times. In fact, I’m sure we’ve all been there and we’ve all regretted saying yes when we should have said no. Why is it so hard to say that little two-letter word? In most cases, it’s because we just can’t say no without following it with a long string of justifications, reasons, and excuses. It’s as if we’re on trial and must give a defense for our answer. So to avoid the whole unpleasantness of the situation, we say yes. Then we hang up the phone and wish we had never answered it in the first place.

I recently read an article that presented a number of similar situations along with sample answers that one could use in order to say no and satisfy the person making the request. However, real life experience has taught me that few (if any) justifications or reasons are ever good enough. For every reason I put forward as to why I can’t do something, the person making the request will find a way around it, informing me that I can if I just do as they say.

Here is the sage advice that came to mind during my experience with the charity caller.

1. Know your life priorities (e.g., family, friends, church, work, previous commitments, etc.)
2. When asked to do something that will compromise your time priorities, politely say “No, I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to do that.” Do not give reasons or make excuses.
3. If the person making the request asks you for a reason, simply rephrase your answer and say “I’m sorry, but I simply can’ t do (whatever it is) at this time.”
4. If appropriate, you may suggest someone who can or offer your help in the future if possible.

Personally, I have found this advice highly effective. Callers often have a prepared arsenal of rebuttals for every excuse they hear. When you don’t give any, they have nothing at which to fire back. I must warn you that it will feel awkward at first because you will be tempted to justify yourself. Don’t give in. You’ve appraised your priorities and know what you can and cannot do. When “no” is the honest answer, enjoy the freedom that honestly brings.




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