The Art of Declining Gracefully
Dear Success Seeker,
It was Friday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. and I was just sitting down to get started on my monthly newsletter when the phone rang. It was Sue, an energetic and socially active friend who my wife and I enjoy and rarely see. She was bubbling with enthusiasm as she invited us to join her at a dinner to celebrate a recent success. I opened for my calendar and asked when the event would take place. Her answer? "Tonight at 7:00 in Yaletown."
Suddenly my interest evaporated. Rushing off to socialize on short notice does not appeal to me at the best of times. At the end of the week and with an 11-year old daughter waiting to spend time with her daddy - well, it just wasn't going to happen. In her typical persuasive style Sue pressed me to attend. Fortunately I've learned the art of saying 'no' gracefully so I was able to decline easily, without upsetting my friend.
Have you noticed that life is busy these days? The ever-evolving communication technology combined with a faster pace of life generates a never-ending stream of requests for our precious time, money, attention and resources. Telemarketing calls interrupt our dinner asking us to buy products, complete surveys and make donations. Every evening there are business meetups and seminars as well as social events and activities. There are so many invitations, requests and opportunities. You simply must develop the ability to give a firm, clear 'no' or soon your life will not belong to you. Unfortunately this is not a skill that comes easily to most people.
But there are two very powerful reasons to practice saying 'no'. The first is that it creates more space and time for you to do what IS important to you in this busy life. The second is it enables you to live true to yourself; to express yourself authentically instead of selling yourself out to keep other people happy.
Here are some tips that will help you say 'no' effectively.
- Listen to your heart, not your mind. Feel what is true for you in your being and allow that truth to guide your decision to say yes or no.
- Be clear and firm about your decision. Once you decide to say 'no' don't be wishy-washy. Resolve to stick to your commitment regardless of the fallout. Your determination makes it easier for you to follow through, and sends a clear and consistent message to the other person as well.
- When appropriate, begin your interaction by acknowledging, thanking, appreciating, or saying something positive about either the other party or the invitation they are putting forward. Find something to say that is true for you.
- It helps to make the reasons you give for declining about YOU, not about the opportunity or the other person. This makes it more difficult for them to argue the point and also reduces the chance they will take your "rejection" personally.
With a social invitation: "I really appreciate you thinking of me however I promised myself I would spend this evening at home and keeping that promise is very important to me."
With a request for a charitable donation: "I know that your organization is a worthwhile cause. Unfortunately I have already chosen which charities I am going to support this year and I'm going to stick to my plans. Good luck."
- Don't defend your decision. You do not need to defend how you feel. If you do decide to explain further, continue to emphasize your feelings and your commitment to yourself.
- If the other person insists, listen, really listen to them before thanking them again and restating your position. When you listen, chances are that they will be so surprised that they will back off.
- A very useful way to disarm a friend is to ask them to support you in keeping your promise to yourself. That forces them to ally with you rather than fight you. For example, "Sue, I love that you include me in your plans. I find it really hard to turn down the excitement of this kind of evening. Yet I know in my heart that it is right for me to stay home and work on my newsletter tonight. I'd appreciate it if you'd support me in keeping my commitment to myself."
"Declining Gracefully" is like any other skill. Once you have learned the steps, practice until it becomes natural. Meanwhile, keep in mind that even an awkward, poorly executed "No" is better than caving in to fear and doing something that does not feel right to you. And also keep in mind the purpose of the exercise - to create more space for what is important to you and allows you to live in alignment with what is true for you.
Andrew Barber-Starkey, Master Certified Coach
Founder and President, ProCoach Success System
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Andrew Barber-Starkey is a Master Certified Coach residing in Vancouver, Canada. His coaching program, the ProCoach Success System, is designed for entrepreneurs, small-business owners, self-employed and commissioned sales people who want to double their income while simultaneously doubling their time off within 3 years.
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