I have a client who is in overwhelm. How do I know? She personally told me that she has thousands and thousands of unread emails…that she will never get to. And everyone around her has confidentially told me that my client simply promises too much, overcommits, and just plain old “works too hard.” In essence, she “overpromises” and “underdelivers” – which is the exact opposite of what we coach our clients to do. We strongly suggest that they “underpromise” and “overdeliver” – thereby giving themselves some breathing space and wowing those around them with on-time (and even early) delivery of stellar results.

My client needs to say “no” – in fact, I’ve come to believe that many of us need to simply say “no” more often. To say it smartly, with reason, and at the right time, but to say “no” nonetheless. When we forget to say “no,” when we take on more and more (and more), we run the risk of running ourselves ragged and of disappointing the people who are expecting something from us. And for those who think nothing of pulling others into fighting fires with them, the person who can’t say “no” is an easy target. The saying, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”, may be a funny paperweight quote, but it is often real for those of us who find it hard to say “no.”

So how do we say no? While “no” is a complete sentence, it’s usually better to give a more thought-out response. Here is what to include in your “no”:

  1. When you can and will deliver what someone is looking for – let them know what to expect and when to expect it. Manage their expectations, and therefore your reputation.
  2. Why you are saying no – it doesn’t have to be a full-blown explanation, or too much information, but give a brief description of what you’ve got already going on, or what the constraints are on you, or what needs to happen before you can fulfill someone’s request. This explanation helps others see the pressure you’re under, and it helps them understand that you’re doing the best you can to give them what they need.
  3. That you understand what they need and why they need it – in many ways, people simply want to be heard. By showing your audience that you hear them and you understand and respect their needs (and timing), you are more likely to get them on your side and therefore to work with them against constraints together. Also, when you confirm and clarify exactly what they want, as well as why and when they want it, you may find that you’ve been operating under a misunderstanding…and you might actually be able to meet their needs if you fully understand what their needs are.
  4. What you can offer them in the meantime – when someone has to wait for something from you, they are much more likely to be fine with the wait if you can give them something, albeit something smaller, to hold them over. Like a “tide-over” before dinner to put off the hunger pains, having a small portion of their ultimate request may help them postpone a looming crisis…and therefore help them wait more patiently.

So, just say “no,” but say it judiciously and intelligently. Carve yourself the bit of downtime you need to think more clearly and produce more effectively – and manage other’s expectations and needs at the same time.

Let us know how you say “no” and how it works for you.
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