Is it nearly impossible for you to turn someone down – even when you want to?
When someone you’ve enjoyed chatting with at the gym asks you if you want to grab a bite to eat afterwards, do you say yes because you don’t want to hurt his feelings, even though you’re not interested in anything further?
When a coworker asks if you’ll recommend her for a promotion, do you say, “Sure, I’d be glad to” even though you think she’d be a disaster in that position?
If you’d rather say, “I’d rather not” instead of “Sure, I’ll do that,” try these five steps.
Know that you have the power to choose
Start by remembering that you have the right to choose what you take on and what you turn down. The requester freely chooses to ask you for something. You have an equal right to freely choose to accept or reject the request. If you think you need to agree to whatever’s asked of you, you deny yourself the choice you give the requester. If you always agree to what’s asked of you, you’re implying that any requester’s needs matter more than your own.
You may need to dig deep and ask yourself why it’s so hard for you to turn down a request. Do you fear losing a friendship, disappointing someone or hurting their feelings? Do you worry that the others might see you as selfish?
Once you’ve examined what might trap you into saying yes, ask yourself, “Do I want to say yes even though I’d rather not?” If so, remember that the requester’s needs and wants are not more important than yours.
Listen to each request carefully
You can eliminate much of your guilt by thoughtfully considering every request. Could you do what was asked of you? What happens if you say yes? For example, a friend sets you up with a blind date. You meet him and feel absolutely no interest, but he takes you out to dinner at an expensive restaurant. If you accept the date to avoid hurting his feelings, you’re stringing him along – leading him to spend a lot of money when you already know you’re not interested, and ultimately hurt his feelings when you don’t accept a second date.
Considering the request both shows you respect for the person making the request and gives you the chance to consider your limited time, resources and energy. The good news – seriously considering a request gives you a clear reason to turn it down or accept it.
Realize you can’t do or take on everything
Stay true to yourself and your priorities. When you turn down a request, you say yes to other things, such as achieving your own goals, or spending time with those you love or even staying sane. For example, you make a commitment to yourself to save money, eat right and exercise daily. When your friends ask you to grab pizza and beer after work, turning them down says yes to your personal commitment.
Say it “clean”
If you don’t want to agree to a request, turn it down “cleanly” and eliminate all or much of your guilt. How? Start with a positive such as, “Thank you for asking me.”
Next, think about how you’d feel if you’d made a request. Would you rather a polite, honest no, or a reluctant but phony yes? By answering honestly, you treat your requester with respect. Because a no without context can seem harsh, add, “I can’t commit,” “I’m not able to because I have other priorities,” “I don’t have enough time to take this on,” or another honest and respectful explanation. If a friend asks you to participate with her in a fundraising event, say, “I appreciate being asked, but I’m overloaded right now.” If someone asks you out after you’ve chatted at the gym, say, “I enjoyed talking to you but I need to get home.” If he then asks, “What about tomorrow?” You can respond, “Your offer is flattering, and again I liked talking with you, but I don’t think we’re right for each other.”
Give them options
Finally, give the requester options if possible. “I can’t give you a lift home tonight, but I can pitch in five dollars for your cab,” or “I can’t afford to go to your destination wedding, but I have a wonderful wedding present for you.”