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Marketing / Communication skills

How to say ‘No’ and own it. Like a toddler

Some of us (myself included) find it very difficult to say 'No'. Both in work and life. But from now on, I’m taking some advice on this topic from my toddler …

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My son and I have quite a few similarities:

  • We share similar skin colouring
  • We are both a little uncoordinated
  • We both get really cranky when we are hungry

We have some striking differences as well:

  • He loves avocado
  • He seems to really enjoy waking up at ridiculous o’clock
  • He’s really good at saying ‘No’

Yes. We are in the throes of the toddler ‘No’ stage.

He doesn’t actually say ‘yes’ yet, so we’re working on the assumption that if he doesn’t say ‘no’, he means ‘yes’.

"While Jim Carrey and Zoey Deschanel may have you believe that saying ‘Yes’ to everything will lead you to a life of fun, adventure, and ultimately love, it doesn’t."

(Such as when I cycle through books to read at bedtime: ‘No, no, no, no … oh, this one?’)

Though he also says ‘No’ sometimes when he means ‘Yes’, which can be confusing.

And amusing.

“Have you done a poo?”
“No.”
“Are you sure?”
“No.”
“It smells like you have.”
“No.”

So, yes.

He is currently a ‘No’ person.

While I am the opposite.

I am a ‘Yes’ person.

And while Jim Carrey and Zoey Deschanel may have you believe that saying ‘Yes’ to everything will lead you to a life of fun, adventure, and ultimately love (with the usual rom-com misunderstandings along the way), it doesn’t.

Saying ‘Yes’ to everything often leaves you very overworked, overwhelmed, underpaid, time poor, exhausted, and bitter.

And sadly, the overwhelming urge that many of us have to help others by doing what we love, can turn what we love into something that we loathe.

Want more articles like this? Check out the Communication Skills section.

It’s not all smooth sailing for the recipient of the ‘Yes’ though.

By us eager beavers saying ‘Yes’ to something we are not qualified or experienced to do (although it may be a great opportunity to gain valuable new experience), they may not be getting the best result.

Given I’ve recently reached a place where the negative repercussions of my yay-saying have well and truly reared their ugly head, I think it’s time to take some lessons from my toddler.

4 toddler tips for saying ‘No’

1. You don’t have to give a reason for saying ‘No’

Most of us, at some stage, have been taught that if we say ‘No’ to something, then an explanation needs to accompany it.

  • “No, sorry, but I’m really busy right now …”
  • “I have a lot on at the moment …”
  • “Unfortunately I have an existing client in that area …”

The problem with all these responses is that they leave us open to getting the same request in the future:

  • When we’re not as busy
  • When we don’t seem to have as much on
  • When there aren’t any other conflicts

And getting caught in these ‘No’ cycles can cause as much stress as taking on something that we don’t want to!

My son only has about a dozen words at his disposal at the moment (and many of them sound quite similar). But despite this (and more likely because he hasn’t yet learned our habit of making excuses for our ‘No’s’ I am incredibly impressed by his resolve to answer a question with a single, simple ‘No’.

“Can you bring your bowl to the sink please?”
“No.”
“Are you ready to get out of the bath?”
“No.”
“Can you finish your dinner please?”
“No.”

Okay. It’s not always going to be viable to respond to a request with a simple, unexplained ‘No’. But the lesson here is to keep it simple. Do not feel compelled to make elaborate excuses for said ‘No’, or include something that may leave some holes open to be picked at a later date.

Keep it simple:

“Thanks for thinking of me, but no.”
“Thank you, but it’s not for me.”
“It’s not in my area, but I’m sure you’ll find the right person for the job.”

2. Say ‘No’ first, think later

As I said earlier, Master M sometimes says ‘No’ when he means ‘Yes’.

His default position is ‘No’.

This response isn’t actually going to be feasible in most business and life situations, but what we can take from this, is that you don’t have to say either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ immediately.

It is perfectly fine to buy yourself some time to consider the opportunity and decide on your answer.

This approach is a really good step for us compulsive ‘yessers’ to develop comfort with not saying ‘Yes’ immediately, but giving ourselves time to think first and answer later.

“Thanks for the opportunity. You’ll need to leave it with me to think about though.”
“Thanks for thinking of me. I’ll need to think it over.”
“Thanks for the offer. I have a lot on my mind at the moment, but will consider it and get back to you soon.”

3. By saying ‘Yes’, you’re often saying ‘No’ to something else

There is a lot of either/or in our house. And this is where the ‘No’ often comes into play.

“Would you like a banana … or a sandwich?”
“Would you like to read ‘Who sank the boat’ … or ‘The wheels on the bus’?” (again)
“Would you like a bath … or a shower tonight?”

Saying ‘Yes’ to one thing may mean saying ‘No’ to something else. Is it worth the trade?

Will saying ‘Yes’ to something that isn’t quite up your alley mean you will have to say ‘No’ if something else comes along that might be perfect for you?

Or by saying ‘Yes’ to something (or to yet another thing), will the things that are already on your plate suffer?

Will existing projects or clients be compromised?

Sometimes we DO have to push ourselves a little bit further, but make sure it’s worth it.

Which brings me to …

4. Know your “why”

We are definitely all aboard the ‘No’ toddler train at the moment, but I know that the ‘Why’ express is not much further down the track …

From the limited experience I have had with friends’ toddlers at the ‘Why’ stage, I find it quite intriguing to explore how far a ‘Why’ can go, and what is at its base.

By knowing your why I don’t mean have an excuse for saying ‘No’, but know wholeheartedly what you want, and why you want it, so you can carefully consider all opportunities (allowing yourself appropriate time), and decide what is right for you.

Be it ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

I value the flexibility and family time that my work situation allows me, and so try to not take on anything that compromises this. I also focus on fulfilling work that inspires me and assists others.

Flexibility, fulfilment and family are my ‘Why(s)’.

As I’ve said a few times now, I’m RUBBISH at saying ‘No’, but I’m determined to take a leaf out of my son’s book and practice saying it.

If you’re also feeling tired, stressed and off track, you may just be a parent, or you may need to join me in practising the art of saying ‘No’ too.

Are you good at saying No? Do you have a toddler who is?

Erica Nistico

partners with individuals and small businesses to understand and improve their online presence. She is the Top Scout and Digital Marketer/Trainer at Scout Digital Training. Be prepared to do your best online. Connect with her on, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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