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Episode #6 What The Fab Podcast: The Power of Saying “No” (And How to Say No Politely)

How to say no politely, by lifestyle blogger What The Fab

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#6: We are diving into the life-changing power of saying, “No.” Elise shares examples of how she has said no to things in both a work setting and relating to friends/family. In this episode, you’ll learn: 

– Why it’s so important to get comfortable with saying no

– How to say no in a work setting so that you can advance your career with intention

– How to say no in a way that makes both parties feel good

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Episode Transcription:

Hey there, and welcome back to the What The Fab podcast. I’m so happy to have you here and we are diving into a new topic today. That topic is the power of saying “No”. I think this is so important for everyone, but women especially because we tend to lean on the side of wanting everyone to get along, wanting people to like us wanting to be included. I’m not trying to generalize. My husband is obviously a man and he is one of the biggest people, pleasers. He is just the kindest, the sweetest and he really has struggled with saying no, but he’s getting a lot better. So I know that if he can do it, you can do it too.

So in today’s episode, I want to get into why it’s so important to get comfortable with saying no, and I also want to share some specific examples from my life of when I have had to say no in my career or just general life stuff, how I went about doing it and why that was the right choice for me. And I think it’s important to share those specific examples so that people can take that, incorporate it into their own life, use those examples and draw from them the next time they’re faced with a situation where they really want to say no, but it’s kind of awkward. So why is it so important and why is it so awkward to say no, evolutionarily, we are part of this like herd community, like we want to be liked. We want to be included. We don’t want to be an outcast. Like this is ingrained into us. And in the moment saying no to something can feel like you’re going against that, that person’s going to be disappointed with me. They’re not going to like me as much anymore. And that short term feeling is scary for us. We want that short-term gratification of saying yes to something, because it seems like the easier option versus in the long term, it might be better for both parties. If we would just say, “No”.

So here’s a real life example of what I mean by that. We’re going to bring in my sweet husband again. So we had some friends that asked him if he could water their plants while they were on this three week vacation. Funny enough, they didn’t reach out to me and ask me probably because they knew I would have said no. So they asked him if he could do this, you know, at first you think about it. It’s not that big of a deal like they live 15 minutes away. Okay, so 15 minutes each way, that’s a half hour. Give yourself 10 minutes to find parking in San Francisco, another 10 minutes to do the actual watering. So like that’s adding up to almost an hour and you’re doing that each week for three weeks. So that’s three hours out of your life and not take it so like calculated with it, but you do kind of need to think about when someone is asking something of you, of your time, like be realistic about what that is. So anyways, Omied’s response was of course, yeah, sure. Because he is the sweetheart that he is, and he didn’t really think about the long-term of how in that moment, when it actually comes time for him to go water his plants, he’s really not going to want to do it. So he says yes, and the second week he looks at me like he’s gotten home from work from a networking event late it’s nine o’clock and he’s like, shit, I have to go water their plants. Is there any way you can do it? I really don’t want to. I’m like, no, I would have said no. If they asked me, like, I did not sign up for this, I don’t feel like doing that. I’m like comfortable in my sweats. I’m not doing that. So I was like, Oh God damn it. So he’s like, okay, I’ll do it tomorrow. So he doesn’t do it the next night. He doesn’t do the next night. Finally. He’s like, shit, I’m late on watering these plants. I got to go do it. So he goes over. Begrudgingly waters the damn plants comes back home and he’s like, I think I killed their plants. I put it off for too long. I waited too long. They looked super wilty and unhappy, and I think I murdered their plants. And I was just like, you know what? It would have been better for both of you if you had just said no, if you just told them, like, sorry, I’m super busy. I probably will forget midway through, like, they would have been better off in the long-term if they had just like hired a neighborhood kid for five bucks a day to come over and water their plants versus you feeling like you had to say yes, because you don’t want to be rude and uncomfortable to say no. And in that short term, it seemed easier to just say yes, but now look at where you are, you killed the fucking plants and you didn’t want to do it in the first place. And you’re like begrudgingly doing it. Like you just should have said no from the beginning. So that’s one example of where it’s just might be a little bit awkward, but in the long-term, it’s better for both of you. And I’m also going to talk to you about how you can make it less awkward. And I promise the more that you do it, the more comfortable it’ll get.

The other thing I want to talk about is just the fact that people will pile shit onto your plate. If you don’t say no, that it’s just human nature, people ask and they take and they take and it’s up to you to be the one to say, no, I can’t take this on. No, I can’t do that. I’d love to, but I can’t, if you just say yes to everything, you are not the one driving all of the shit that is getting piled onto your plate. It’s getting piled on by other people and you are not the one deciding what your priorities are. And you’re just going to be spread too thin. Really recommend reading the book, “Essentialism” the disciplined pursuit of less. It goes into this in a lot of detail. It goes into how you can really figure out how to identify the essential few versus the non-essential many. Let me tell you, most things are not essential and you got to say no to them. I will link to that book in the show notes, which you could find at whatthefab.com/no.

Okay. So let me get into some of my personal examples from my career. So let me just start by saying that if you are super young in your career, you’re just starting out. You’re kind of green saying yes to everything is great advice. You’re a sponge, you’re absorbing, you’re learning, you’re trying different things. Everything’s a learning opportunity and you’re figuring out what you like, what you don’t like. You are being that person that people can come to. With the shit tasks, because they know that you’ll kill it and do a good job. And then eventually when they have better tasks that are actually something interesting and fun, they’ll come to you with those opportunities as well. That is great. If you’re just starting out in your career, if you’re a little bit more seasoned and you have direction, you know what you want, what you’re going after saying yes to everything is actually horrible advice. I think it is total bullshit. I think saying no is way more powerful because you are being more intentional with where you’re investing your time and your resources. If you are saying yes to one thing, that means that you have to say no to other things because you can’t do everything.

So here’s a specific example for me when I was at Google. So as you guys know, I worked on an events team at Google. And so there was this platform that was supposed to be this internal website that was like a database of all of the different events that Google had going on and engineers could go through this website and see what events were coming up that maybe they could volunteer at, if we were doing a recruiting event and we needed some engineers from different teams to be there, the only problem was this website or this tool was total shit and it didn’t work. I didn’t like using it but we were kind of forced to, like, we were expected to use it, but nobody really actually implemented it. Nobody like engineers didn’t actually use this as a helpful resource because it didn’t work. So my manager came to me one day and she was like, okay. We are looking to build a task force to fix this tool, this website, and to make it actually useful. First of all, don’t get me started on task forces. It’s like hoo. It’s like this corporate buzzword that just like makes my insides crawl and it’s also like, let’s put it together, this task force and we’ll pick everybody from each sub part of the team so that no sub team feels left out and it is rendered completely, ineffective and useless and just slow as molasses because there are way too many people working on this one little project and one or two people could have worked on it and finished it in the time that we’ve put together this task force.

Anyways, so that’s how I feel about that. I did not want to work on this. I did not want to lead this project, this task force. Because I thought that this internal website was stupid and useless. And the only way that it was going to get fixed is if you had an engineer work on it and make it beautiful and actually function correctly. And I just knew that that wasn’t going to happen. So I’m like, okay, how do I nicely decline this quote unquote, opportunity because that’s how everything is presented to you, right? Like, we’ve got this opportunity. We thought that it would be great for you to work on this. Like they kind of try to flatter you and butter you up. Like, Oh, you’d be so great for this. And you’re like, I don’t want to fucking do this. That is why you were asking me because somebody else probably was smart enough to say no to it. Okay. So here’s what I did. I said, you know what? I completely agree that this tool does not function properly. I am not super interested in working on this. I don’t feel like my skillset would align with this project as much as you’re saying. I think there are other people on the team that would be more strongly aligned and interested in working on this project. I know I could do a good job if necessary, but I would really rather this opportunity, quote, unquote, be given to other people on the team to see if there’s someone that’s more excited about it and they can take that project on. Cause I don’t want to take away that opportunity from them. If there isn’t someone on the team that would be delighted to work on this task force, let me know. And I’m happy to hop in. Boom, done. My manager was like, okay, great. I’ll ask someone else. And guess what? The next person that she asked, whatever poor schmuck that was, they didn’t say no. And they did it. And you know what. That tool was deprecated six months later, like literally somebody in upper management caught wind of it and was like, this is awful. Let’s just get rid of it. So after this poor other person worked on this stupid project on this task force for six months, it was deprecated. So, you know, lesson learned there for me. I was so glad that I said no, because if I had said yes, I would have spent six months working on a project that I hated didn’t care about. And then my work would have been completely erased anyways, which would have been so frustrating. I’m sure the person that worked on it was super annoyed, but that’s just the way things work sometimes. And you know what, I’m really glad that I said no, and my manager was completely fine with it. I’m sure that in that moment she was like, Oh, I kind of wish that she had said yes, because it would make things easier for me. I wouldn’t have to keep asking other people and trying to find somebody for this project, but she very quickly got over it and everything was fine. And I completely do not regret saying no.

So here are some things that I try to keep in mind when I am number one, making a decision of whether I’m going to say yes or no to something and then number two, if I’m delivering a no, here’s kind of what I try to keep in mind to make it a, an experience that in the end feels good for the person receiving the no, and for me as well.

So, when I’m making that initial decision, somebody is asking something of me, first, I listened to my gut, like, how does this make me feel? Do I feel expansive and light and happy about this? Do I feel like lucky that I’m getting this opportunity or do I feel like a pit in my stomach, do I feel kind of like small? Do I feel a nagging or tugging of like, Ugh, like I just don’t want to do this. I just try to listen to that initial gut reaction. Now obviously sometimes in life we have to do things that we don’t want to do, but when there is a decision to be made and sometimes it can almost feel like you have to say yes, if your manager is asking you something, but guess what? You don’t have to say yes to everything. I promise you that the more you start saying no, the more comfortable you will be with it, and I think some of that comfort comes from just practicing and doing it and seeing other people’s reactions and the fact that they got over it, or they literally didn’t even bat an eye in the slightest. I personally think people respect you more when you say no. And again, with the example of like the plant watering bullshit that Omied had to do, they didn’t ask me to do it. Probably because they knew that I would have said no. So the more you say no, the more confident you get in delivering that, and the less people come to you with their bullshit tasks. And I’m not saying that you need to be selfish with your time or your resources. I’m just saying that you need to be intentional with them. Like if you have a friend or a partner or, you know, a family member that something happens and they need your help and you need to drop everything and help them, that is completely different than like, bullshit stuff being added to your plate, just because you say yes to everything.

Okay. So let’s get into the delivery of the no. I personally like to offer a counter suggestion if I am saying no to something at work. So for the example with my former manager, my suggestion was find somebody else, but I didn’t just frame it as like, that’s not my job or I don’t want to do that. I framed it more as, I don’t think that this aligns with my skillset. Another phrase that I have used in the past in a very similar situation was, I know that I can do a good job at this because I have done similar projects in the past, but I don’t really see this as a stretch opportunity for me. And I really would like to give this as an opportunity to someone else on the team that is looking to hone their skills in X, Y, Z. I’ve already had these opportunities. I’d love to look for other projects that are going to help me with growing this other skill set that I really am interested in developing more, or that are going to utilize my skills in social media, by giving that kind of twist on it, it’s making the opportunity to become available to somebody else and also reiterating and speaking what it is that you are interested in doing. And again, like in the example that I shared, I would always end with, if you can’t find somebody that would be excited about this opportunity that wants to sharpen their skills in this area, let me know, and I can do it and I’ll do a great job, but I just wanted to open this up to other people. Guess what? It never came back around to me because there’s always somebody else that is going to say yes, so you don’t have to be that person. You don’t have to be that person that gets all the crap loaded onto you and just says yes to everything. Let someone else be that person. And you can be more intentional with your time and what you’re taking on.

So that’s how I recommend handling it. If it’s something that has to do with work but what about if it’s like friends or family? I feel like they work versus friends and family and personal relationships. Like they each have their own challenges. I kind of feel like it’s almost easier once you get into it to say no to things that are work-related because, like I said, there’s just so many ways to spin that, but when it’s your family or a friend, you want to help them out. And of course you do when you can, but sometimes there might be people in your life that are a little bit too needy, they ask for too much, they take too much of your time and your resources. How do you say no to that? I just go with open and direct honesty. So with Omied’s example with the plants if they had asked me, I probably would have just said something like, you know, I wish that I could, but my schedule is so jam packed. I think it’s really likely that I might forget one week and I would feel so bad if I killed one of your plants. So it’s probably better if you find someone else, let me know if you absolutely can’t find someone, then I can try to help out something like that to kind of soften it a little bit but, once you’ve said that you’re likely to kill one of their plants. They’re probably not going to come back around.

Okay, I just thought of another example I can share about when I have to say no and it kind of blends my work and friends and family. So I get asked by a lot of people, if they can pick my brain about blogging and social media, like I probably at least once a week get some kind of request, whether it is a follower that I don’t actually know, haven’t met in person or oftentimes it’s, you know, someone I used to work with at Google, like they want to know how I left Google. They want out too, you know, a friend or family member has another friend that really wants to blog full time and they want to set up a coffee date, or now during the pandemic, a virtual coffee date and pick my brain. And while I really do wish that I could sit down with everyone and help everyone, there are two things that are like fundamentally wrong with this, the first is just my time, like I don’t have time based on all of the requests that I get. It’s just not physically possible for me to do it. But then the second is, and this is maybe a whole other conversation, but you know, my decade of experience blogging and everything that I had to learn for myself in Google, myself, like there weren’t courses about like how to blog back in 2012. Like I just figured it out myself through trial and error and like, you know, googling articles about it. So that decade of research, like you’re offering me, what a coffee for it? Like it’s just, not to be an asshole, but like what’s in it for me to like sit down and like spill my guts about everything that I have put my blood, sweat, and tears into trying to learn and build this business. Like it just doesn’t really make sense. So those are the two reasons why when I get these requests, like it’s hard because I do want to help people out, but I don’t have the time and also you’re actually asking a lot of me when you asked to put my pick my brain. So what I have started doing in the past, especially if it was like a friend that wanted to ask if I could connect with their friend, like I would feel so bad saying no. So I used to just say yes, but what I do now is I am just upfront and I say, you know, I would love to sit down with everyone that sends me these requests, but unfortunately it’s just not possible. As you can imagine, I get a lot of messages and requests to pick my brain. So instead, what I’ve done is I’ve set up one-on-one consulting options. And this has been so helpful for setting boundaries and saying no to these requests that I receive really, really often. And guess what? Ever since I started saying that and doing that, no one has been like, Oh my gosh, how dare you? Like you bitch. Everybody has been like, yeah, that’s super fair. I totally get it. And yeah, some of them do end up becoming a client of mine that I do one-on-one consulting with and that has been super rewarding. It makes sense because I’m being compensated and it’s a structure where again, it’s really rewarding for me because I am like teaching someone in a structured way. And it’s not honestly like, even if I did say yes to all of these coffee chats or some of them, like, you’re not going to come away with some magical pill or knowledge that is going to propel you into being like, America’s next top blogger. Like it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of one-on-one sessions and like working through things and trying different things and using the knowledge that I have. And, you know, building on that and so that’s just not going to happen for you in a coffee chat.

And by the way, if you are interested in doing some one-on-one coaching, you can shoot me an email. It’s Elise E L I S E@whatthefab.com. So shoot me an email if you are interested in that.

So that’s my other example of saying no. And by the way, you can apply this concept of saying no in different ways to other aspects of your life. Even if it doesn’t necessarily involve physically speaking the word. No. So what I mean by that is saying no, by opting out of certain things, saying no in a way that is setting your boundaries and guarding your time and respecting how you feel. So you can say no by for example, unsubscribing to a bunch of email newsletters that are trying to get you to buy shit you don’t need or email newsletters that maybe you sign up for at one point in time, but they just no longer serve you, but you still kind of open them. You can say no to responding to emails, to text messages or voicemails right away, or frankly, even at all, I’m personally trying to shift how I treat my emails and to get past the idea that I have to respond to every single thing that comes in my inbox. I get anywhere from one to 200 emails a day. And if I let myself just respond to emails right away, I could do it all day long, which sounds like my special version of hell, but it’s there, it’s a possibility. And quite often I get emails, that are asking things of me or show that the person really didn’t research me like a brand, pitching me to blog about a baby related product and I don’t have kids. And I used to feel like I had to respond to every email that came my way, and now I’m getting better at just hitting archive. And I’m also working on not responding to text messages right away. And, you know, just letting people think, whatever they want about it because again, if I spend time responding to every single text message right away, I could do that all damn day long, and then I wouldn’t get any work done. I wouldn’t have any time for myself. So I’m saying no to that. I’m setting intentional boundaries and now my friends and family just kind of know. I might have my phone away for hours at a time and I’ll catch up later during my lunch or in the evening or the next day. So like, I just want you to know that you don’t owe anyone, anything. And I want you to know that you don’t owe people an immediate response. And like, at the end of the day, you can’t be worried about making everyone like you.

So my challenge to you is the next time that someone asks you to do something, first of all, take a step back before you even respond and think about what that ask actually means the time commitment, how it makes you feel like, feel in your gut if you actually want to do that thing. And if you don’t, figure out how to politely say no. So, as I shared in my examples, I like to kind of come up with an alternative solution, you know? Ask other people on the team and if no one can do it, I will. Or, um, you know, here’s my consulting pricing like come up with, instead of just like a flat, no. Think about how you can soften it a little bit. Think about how you can provide other solutions. And I want you to start practicing this. And I want you to notice how people respond, because I promise you, if you think in your mind, it’s going to be like this whole big blow up and like to do, I personally have been shocked to find that like, everything’s fine. Nobody cares. Life moves on and I get to do exactly what I want to do.

So, that’s it for my episode today, about how to say no and why it’s so important to say no, I hope that you give this a try. If you do shoot me a DM, let me know how it goes for you. And if you found value in this episode, please go ahead and subscribe, rate and review. I really appreciate it. Share it with someone else who you think could benefit from practicing the power of saying no. And yeah. Thank you so much for tuning in and I will chat with you next week.

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