Do you often say “yes” when someone comes up to you for a favor?

Do you give in to people’s requests, even if you’ve already too much on your plate or a very busy schedule?

As a leader, you want to gain the trust and loyalty of the people you work with. You know that working with people who are comfortable and trusting of you allows you to be more productive and effective.

However, there’s a fine line between being a likeable person and being a people-pleaser.

To be an effective leader, sometimes you have to put your foot down and say “no,” even if it means turning down a good offer or a teammate’s idea.

Why “NO” is just as important as “YES”

Saying “yes” to every single opportunity can be just as disruptive and stressful when you don’t reign it in when you need to.

Your schedule is already bursting at the seams with tasks and appointments. Adding more just to please others can lead to overwhelm, making it difficult to fulfil these requests after all.

Your own priorities are compromised as well. Each “yes” comes with a cost wherein you’re essentially saying “no” to other opportunities along the way. These can be:

  • Speaking gigs
  • Networking opportunities
  • Improving your core product or service
  • Bigger and better clients
  • Time for yourself, the family, and friends

If you want to achieve balance and still be a great leader to your team, you have to learn to say “no” to tasks, engagements, and even opportunities that may not align with your short and long-term goals.

Four simple “no” scripts that still make you likeable

If you’re worried about hurting feelings or burning a bridge or two, there are ways to frame the “no” so that you remain polite, professional, and likeable to others.

1. “Let me think about it.”

This is a polite and professional way of asking for more time to consider the request. As a busy leader, you often need to think things through before making any decisions.

2. “The idea sounds great! It’s just that … “

Start on a positive note by sincerely complimenting or thanking the person for thinking of you.

You can then follow it up with an honest reason why you can’t accept the request or why you won’t be able to make it to this engagement.

3. “I can’t today. How about [insert new schedule]?”

This is best for when you truly believe that the request is worth looking into again in the future.

If you’re absolutely sure that this is something you want to consider again, offer to reschedule at a better time when you can devote your full attention.

4. “I’m sorry, but I can’t.”

If you feel that you’ve no time or interest in fulfilling the request, a straightforward “no” is the best answer you can give. There’s no room for false hope and you can rest assured that you’re still on track with your schedule and goals.

You can tweak any of these four scripts to best convey your decision and the reasons behind it.

How to cancel after saying “yes”

The four scripts are useful when turning down a request as it is presented to you. But what if you’ve agreed to commit, but need to cancel at the last minute?

Nobody wants to go back on his or her word, but you may feel that you need to step back and make room for opportunities that best align with what you want to do or achieve.

While it isn’t going to be easy, you need to be honest both with yourself and with the person you’ve agreed to work with. Step up and be transparent about your inability to finish the job or commit to the engagement.

To help you out, here is a short and simple step-by-step guide you can tweak to best communicate how you need to cancel your agreement in a polite and professional manner.

Step #1: Acknowledge that you’ve agreed to commit to the request. (“I know that I’ve offered to take on this project two months ago…”)

Step #2: Apologize and explain that you have to cancel the commitment. (“… but things have changed since then and I feel I may not have the time to give your project my 100%. My sincere apologies for this.”)

Step #3: Offer a solution or alternative. (“I don’t want to leave you hanging, so I’ve a few people I can recommend who have the skills to handle your project. I can also…”)

Step #4: Be open to questions, concerns, and positive or negative feedback. (“If you have questions or concerns, I’m free and willing to listen.”)

Your thoughts

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where it’s difficult to say “no”? How did you solve the problem? Share your thoughts in the comments. Or if you’re still looking for tips to handle a tough manager or client project timeline, check out one PM’s tips.

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