Why saying no gets you ahead

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Declining an invitation or a project is hard to do, but don’t let the pangs of guilt dictate your career and life. Here are 7 ways to say, ‘no.’

Everyone knows the adage: good fences make good neighbors. Basically, it means to set firm boundaries. By setting boundaries, we find the freedom to behave in our best interest, with fewer distractions and fewer unwanted intrusions. This is even more important in our digital age, where there are so many people vying for our attention and so many ways to be distracted.

Building good fences—setting boundaries—is one of the most important skills to master for both personal and professional growth. And one of the most important aspects of a good fence is the ability to say no to the people, activities and engagements that we do not enjoy or that do not advance us personally or professionally. When you say no to the things that don’t help you, you are, in effect, saying yes to the things that will. By saying no, you open up the space necessary for yes.

For most of us, saying no is exceedingly difficult. We seem to say yes to everything. I think one of the reasons we find it so hard to say no, especially as women, is that we want to be liked. We want to be seen as team players. We want to be included. We don’t want to hurt feelings by closing our door or, God forbid, saying no to someone or something. We say yes to too many things maybe out of guilt or maybe to prove that we can do it all.

Whatever the psychological back story, whatever the reason, the fact remains that saying yes to too many things is overwhelming and counterproductive. By saying yes to too many things, we may be saying no to some very important things. If our plate is too full, there’s no room for the unexpected or ideal opportunity. If our fences aren’t strong, everything gets in.

We have to build good fences and resolve to say yes only to the things we enjoy, that advance our careers, or that don’t distract us from our goals.

Here are seven tips to help you say no:

Implement a 24-hour pause period. Give yourself 24 hours before accepting any invitations, professional or personal. You don’t have to give an answer right away! Think about what you will get out of it, if it’s worth your precious time, and if it’s something you really want to do. Also consider what is already on your plate? Will you have to give something up?

For example, when you have received an invitation, simply say: “Thank you for the invitation. Let me check my schedule and think about it, and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.” If it is something you really want to do but simply can’t, be sure to convey that: “Thank you so much for the invitation. I can’t do that right now, but I would love to serve in the future, and I hope you will keep me in mind for future events/projects.”

Read more: Why saying no gets you ahead

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