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Sleep on it

Even if you feel you are be­ing coaxed into say­ing ‘yes’ (and cer­tainly if you’re hav­ing doubts), ask for a day to think about it be­fore pro­vid­ing an an­swer. It’s go­ing to be much eas­ier to say ‘no’ once you’ve had time to con­sider all your com­mit­ments and whether the item in ques­tion is a re­al­is­tic ad­di­tion to your sched­ule.

De­liver a pos­i­tive sand­wich

Putting a ‘no’ be­tween two pos­i­tives is a tech­nique which I rec­om­mend when peo­ple strug­gle to say ‘no’. It’s also a great way to main­tain re­la­tion­ships. For ex­am­ple, if your friend asks you to go out at the week­end, but you have fam­ily com­mit­ments, ex­plain the im­por­tance of this com­mit­ment to your friend (the first ‘yes’), but how that it pre­vents you from go­ing out with them (the ‘no’), then fin­ish by re­mind­ing them of your in­vest­ment in the friend­ship by mak­ing fu­ture plans with them (the fi­nal ‘yes’). It eases the blow for them and eases the guilt for you.

Prac­tice say­ing ‘no’

When we are stressed and tired, we tend to act ha­bit­u­ally. So, know­ing this, you can train your brain to ha­bit­u­ally say ‘no’ rather than ‘yes’ to cer­tain re­quests by re­hears­ing a go-to re­sponse when peo­ple ask you for favours. Re­search shows that when we make a spe­cific plan be­fore we are con­fronted with a re­quest, we are far more likely to act in a way that’s con­sis­tent with our orig­i­nal in­ten­tions. So you won’t be forced into say­ing ‘yes’ when you are think­ing ‘no’.

Prepa­ra­tion is key

Say ‘yes’ only if the in­vi­ta­tion or op­por­tu­nity meets a short set of cri­te­ria which you need to cre­ate for your­self. For ex­am­ple, when de­cid­ing on speak­ing en­gage­ments, I try to com­bine pos­si­ble busi­ness de­vel­op­ment (se­cur­ing fu­ture work); pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment (im­prov­ing skills and knowl­edge); per­sonal de­vel­op­ment (per­sonal growth and gain­ing ex­pe­ri­ence); and net­work­ing (meet­ing new peo­ple). I look to at­tend events that prom­ise value in at least two out of the four. Write down your own cri­te­ria and stick them on your lap­top screen or put them in your phone or di­ary. Soon, you’ll be say­ing ‘yes’ to only those op­por­tu­ni­ties that meet the cri­te­ria star­ing back at you. Ap­par­ently the more you say ‘no’, the eas­ier it gets. Try it. Ah go on, go on!

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