Will You Say ‘No’ Today?

With these shorter days comes more of everything it seems: more work to meet your year-end targets, more school work and activities, more planning for upcoming holidays, and perhaps more stress to make that change in your life that you promised you would make in 2015.

If you are like so many other lawyers and professionals with busy careers and lives to run, you are probably saying ‘Yes’ too often. The diagnosis is the easy part – the difficulty is making the switch from the ‘Yes’ mode to the ‘No’ mode.  There are many reasons for this: you do not want to let people down, you have fallen into a longstanding pattern of overcommitting, or you associate the word ‘No’ with selfishness, potential failure, or other negative labels.  In the end, the key to changing the behaviour and learning to say ‘No’ is to connect the ‘No’ with why it matters to you.

Byron Katie, the master of turning everything around, pointed out, choosing to say ‘Yes’ when it isn’t right for you sells yourself out and leaves you bitter and burned out. Saying ‘No’ allows you to live with yourself. It sets you free.

If you need more convincing, here are some crucial reasons to say ‘No’:

  • Saying No gives you more time and energy in your days. That’s an easy one to sell.
  • Saying No aligns you with your priorities and your values, so that you can be more engaged in what you choose to do each day.
  • Saying No helps you set clear boundaries with others. After all, you teach people how to treat you.
  • Saying No builds confidence. Being a me-pleaser, instead of a people-pleaser, helps you achieve your goals that are based on what you actually want, instead of guilt or what others want.
  • Saying No reduces stress and clears the clutter in your brain. This pares down your life and gives you more space to breathe and be present.

Saying ‘No’ sets off a chain reaction that positively impacts all areas of your life.

Case in point: Jane, an overworked lawyer with years of experience saying ‘Yes’ to everyone, realizes that she can no longer keep up the ‘Yes’ pace. This doesn’t mean that she must leave her practice and make a 180 degree shift in her life. Instead, she spends a few minutes nailing down her four priorities for the next 3 months: (1) billing targets; (2) business development; (3) health; and (4) family needs. She then commits to specific and realistic goals in each of these categories.

Now, with a clear understanding of what matters to her for the next few months, Jane has benchmarks against which she can start saying ‘No’. Has the business development activity netted meaningful work for Jane in the past? If not, she says ‘No’. Does the volunteer opportunity at school help her spend time with her kids? If not, she says ‘No’. Does the event with friends or extended family support her with her health or family goals? If not, she says ‘No’. You get the picture.

But what matters here is not Jane’s responses to these questions – her responses could the opposite of yours – it’s the idea that when you say ‘No’, you are saying ‘Yes’ to something even better. Make sure know what that is before you say ‘No’. Jane says ‘No’ to a night out with friends so that she can say ‘Yes’ to her health and a good night’s sleep. This makes her more productive at work and more patient at home.

To make this as easy as possible for you, here are some ways to politely turn people down:

  • “I am unable to commit to that right now, but will think about it again in the new year.”
  • “I cannot do what you have asked, but I can definitely do X, Y or Z instead.”
  • “I am working hard to spend more time with my kids/spouse/parents, and I hope you’ll understand that I cannot attend your event.”
  • “I love your idea, and am hoping we can modify it a bit so that I can make it work.”
  • “I am clearing my plate for the next few weeks and I apologize if the timing isn’t perfect.”

Saying ‘No’ will set off a chain reaction that is aligned with who you truly are. It is not selfish, rude, nor unhelpful. It is giving yourself permission to enjoy life on your terms. Is that such a remarkable request?

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