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How To Amicably Say “No”

Early in my career, I was really bad at saying “no” to people. Seer is a place where opportunities to help others out, work on side projects, and go the extra mile for clients are aplenty, and this got me into trouble early on. I found myself over-extended, working nights and weekends just to stay above water because I had said “yes” to too much. What I quickly learned was that in an agency setting (Seer is my first agency), where team members must juggle multiple clients and often a side project or two, learning how to amicably say “no” is a critical skill to develop. Otherwise, it’s easy to find yourself spread too thin. This is especially true at Seer, where innovation and “kaizen” (continuous improvement) are such fundamental pillars of our culture.

There are many techniques out there for amicably saying “no”, but I’m going to share the one that gave me an “aha!” moment and that has worked well for me.

Thank you, Tim Ferris! 💡

Luckily, I stumbled across a Tim Ferris podcast appropriately titled “How To Say No”, in which Tim and his guest outline their favorite tactics for saying “no.” Below is the technique.

1) Fully explain your predicament (give it context).

Be upfront about what’s going on, giving enough context so that whoever you are saying “no” to fully understands where you’re coming from.

E.g. I’d love to help out, but even with a prioritized client-only to-do list only, I’m finding that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish what I’ve been needing to over the past few months. I have quite a lot coming down the pike, so, unfortunately, my schedule isn’t getting any lighter.

2) Blame it on a policy. That way it’s not about them and their request, it’s about your policy.

Take 5 minutes to brainstorm policies or rules for yourself that will keep you productive and sane. And be honest with yourself. Then explain your policy, and how saying “yes” would violate your policy.

E.g. “I have a policy where I don’t say yes to things that I can’t 100% dedicate myself to. Committing to this project and not giving it my all wouldn’t be fair to either of us”.

OR

“I’m on a strict ‘nothing but client work’ diet over the next [x] months, given my current workload.”

3) Add a personal touch and end on a positive note

Show your human side, so that your “no” has some emotion behind it. If you stop at your policy, your reason for saying “no” could sound a bit cold.

E.g. But THANK YOU so much for thinking of me for this project. It really means a lot. You guys are going to kill it, and when I see the final product, I know I’ll be kicking myself for not participating 🙂

Conclusion

There are many ways to say “no” amicably, but I really like this 3-pronged technique of explaining your predicament, blaming it on a policy, and ending on a positive note.

The full podcast explaining this technique about 20 minutes long, and you can find it here. Thanks Tim! My hope is that with this technique you’ll avoid spreading yourself too thin, while also being open and transparent with your co-workers.

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