Pallavi Pinakin feels it’s time to stop being a pushover – and take charge!

In today’s world, there’s an emphasis on saying ‘yes’ to life’s opportunities – from new work projects to unexpected social gatherings. But what’s often overlooked is the equally crucial art of saying ‘no thanks.’

Many of us feel compelled to accept every invitation and request, draining our precious personal reserves of time and energy. We become tired, stressed and snappish – and ultimately, fail to give our best to the people and things that really matter.

Indeed, there are reasons why we find it so difficult to refuse…

For a start, many of us suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) both in the workplace as well as in our personal lives. Be it a brand-new initiative at the office or dinner with distant relatives, we’re understandably hesitant to skip what might turn out to be a rewarding experience.

Unfortunately, by agreeing to a hundred different things, we spread ourselves too thin and are unable to enjoy any experience to its fullest.

Another reason for ‘yes fever’ is the fear of letting people down or being disliked by them. This tendency is closely linked to a lack of self-confidence. Those with lower levels of self-esteem tend to prioritise the needs and opinions of others far above their own. To avoid conflict and criticism, they take on a heavy burden even when it’s to their own detriment.

Learning to curb your people pleasing side can help empower and place you in the driver’s seat of life, in addition to boosting your self-worth. If you’re ready to start saying ‘no’ to the things that zap your time and energy, here are key steps you can take.

PRIORITISE First, get your priorities in order; take stock of what is critically important to you. At work, what do you find most fulfilling? What are your long-term career goals? Which types of tasks or projects tie in with these broader objectives?

Answering these questions will give you a clearer sense of the opportunities you should say ‘yes’ to and those you may want to refuse.

Undertake a similar assessment in the personal sphere. For example, do you really enjoy that weekly drink with casual acquaintances? Or do you go simply out of habit and because you want to show up in their social media photos the next day? Would you rather spend this time doing something else?

Identify areas where you’re overcommitting yourself so you can stop answering invitations with a thoughtless ‘I’ll be there.’

KEEP IT SIMPLE When you’re turning down a request, your response should be pleasant and direct. Thank the person for thinking of you and politely but firmly tell him or her you won’t be able to participate. For example, you could say ‘thanks for the invite but I’m busy on Saturday’ or ‘that sounds like a great project but I honestly don’t have the capacity to take it on at the moment.’

Don’t offer too many reasons or apologies. You don’t need to be sorry or obtain anyone’s permission for choosing how you spend your time. And remember that refusal isn’t the same thing as rejection. You’re saying ‘no’ to the request, not the person – and most people will understand this especially if they have hectic schedules themselves.

LEARNING CURVE You can improve your ‘no game’ by starting to practise it in less important and low stakes scenarios – for instance, when you’re approached by a salesperson in a store or asked to sign up for a membership card at the supermarket. Saying ‘no’ to strangers is much easier so this will help you warm up and gently hone your assertiveness skills.

BUY SOME TIME If you find it difficult to refuse a request off the bat so to speak or are genuinely unsure about how you feel about it, buy some time. Say you’ll think about it and revert. Then think about the opportunity – does it fit in with the priorities you identified earlier? If the answer is ‘yes,’ go ahead and make it work. If not, you can say ‘no’ confidently since you’ve considered the request.

STICK WITH IT If you’ve been a people pleaser for many years, you may have to deal with some initial pushback. Since people are used to constant acquiescence from you, they’re going to be surprised and possibly irritated when you stop complying with their every demand. Don’t worry, this is only a phase! As long as you stand firm, your colleagues, friends and family will soon get used to not always having their way.

BE IN CONTROL Own your refusals. One study found that saying ‘I don’t’ instead of ‘I can’t’ helps you take charge of your choices. While ‘I can’t’ sounds like an excuse and makes you appear a victim of circumstances, ‘I don’t’ does away with any appearance of weakness – it makes it clear that you’re in control. And in the long term, it also earns you respect, as well as a reputation for possessing both conviction and stability.