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!