How to Know When to Say ‘No’ (Part 2 of 2)

by | Aug 18, 2016 | Leadership

How to Know When to Say ‘No’ (Part 2 of 2)

by | Aug 18, 2016 | Leadership

My last blog post identified the #1 professional skill I’ve learned – saying ‘No’ – and gave a method for how to say ‘No’ to commitments with grace and confidence. The post resonated with a lot of people and it was easy to see why. Many of us suddenly find ourselves in the situation where we realise we’ve taken on too much. It hits us that our stress levels are through the roof and we’re constantly running from one commitment to the next with little reprieve. Although saying ‘No’ can be tough, it’s absolutely necessary for maintaining a sense of self-respect and, frankly, making sure your time isn’t wasted.

So, what happens when some has asked you to take on a commitment? How do you know exactly when to say ‘No’? That is the focus of this Part 2 follow-up post.

Below is my tried-and-tested plan. I hope you find it helpful (give me some feedback if you think I should add anything!).

Step 1: Define your Absolute ‘No’ List.

Before you’ve even been offered an opportunity, you need to define the behaviour you will not accept from other people. Be as specific as you can.

Personally, I do not accept coercion, harassment, or bullying as a way of getting me to accept a commitment. Before I consider choosing to accept or reject a commitment, I also need all my questions to be answered. I need to know that I’ll be treated with dignity and respect at each step – from being offered the opportunity to saying our good-byes. Because I’ve identified behaviours I won’t accept from others, if I encounter them I immediately know that I need to say ‘No.’

Step 2: Buy yourself some time.

Always, always, always give yourself some time to think. You need to allow yourself some space, even if it’s just 30 seconds.

You can buy yourself some time in a face-to-face situation by saying, ‘I just need to check-in with someone, can you give me a moment?’ You can then either contact someone else or take that time to just check-in with yourself. With e-mail or text message opportunity, simply step away and continue with the following steps.

Step 3: Ask yourself the following 5 questions.


How to Know When to Say No - Flowchart - Bronwyn Milkins

Easy flow-chart for how to know when to say ‘No’ – click for a larger image.

1. Are all the details about the opportunity known?

It’s ideal to know exactly what you are getting yourself in to when offered an opportunity. A few of the things I need to know include the number of hours I will need to commit, my duties, and whether there will be any compensation ($$) for my time. The main reason for this level of detail is that, in my experience, after you’ve accepted an opportunity it becomes difficult to back out of it. If you want to maintain a working relationship with the person who offered you the opportunity in the future, you need to know exactly what you are getting in to.


2. What are the costs associated with this opportunity?

It’s always wise to consider the costs associated with an opportunity. There are generally two costs to any opportunity: (1) your time and (2) your bank balance

First, ask yourself, ‘will I have the time and energy to commit to this opportunity?’ Factor in how many hours you will be expected to commit, including preparation time. It can help to write out a list of all of your current commitments and see where this one could slot in. Be realistic. If you can see that you don’t have the time or energy for this opportunity, are you willing to give up anything in your schedule to allow for this opportunity? If not, then this may indicate that saying ‘No’ is a good option.

With any financial cost, lay out exactly how much the opportunity will cost. Then, move on to considering the gains from taking on the opportunity.


3. What do I stand to gain from accepting this opportunity?

There’s generally four things you can gain from any opportunity: (1) skills, (2) networking/exposure, (3) experience, and (4) money. 

Skills are always a huge gain. In your cost/gain considerations, rank highly those skills that lead to a recognised qualification. It can help to have a list of skills (call it a growth list) you want to develop handy. Write out any skill you want to develop or any career you see yourself in – nothing is too crazy – then number the list in order of importance.

That way, when an opportunity presents itself, you can compare the skills you set to gain against the skills you’ve already identified as wanting to develop. For example, if you want to develop your oral communication skills and a free public speaking workshop presents itself then you would automatically recognise the opportunity as a ‘gain’. It’s good to re-evaluate this growth list every now and then as you acquire new skills.

Now, weigh up the costs and gains. If there are more gains then costs, then proceed.


4. How closely does this opportunity align with my values? 

Again, it can help to have a list of core values and current goals handy. Values can be things like family, education, community, or integrity. For example, I work and study as a researcher so I will never hesitate to say ‘no’ to any opportunity that threatens my integrity as a researcher who is free from conflicts of interest, bias, or poorly-designed research.


5. Is there another time I can accept this opportunity? 

Does this opportunity come around every 6 or 12 months? Is there another way you can gain the same skills, exposure, and/or experience? It may be better to accept the opportunity another time when you’ve got more time to dedicate or when you’ve acquired a few more skills. Above all, this question is really giving you an opportunity to opt-out. Even if there are massive gains to be had from accepting the opportunity and it aligns 100% with your values, you might just not want to take on the opportunity right now. That’s completely okay – say ‘No’ with confidence.

There you have it – how to know just when to say ‘No’. A summary of this post in flowchart form can be found here. You can read the Part 1 post, ‘How to Say ‘No’ in Six Steps’ here