I was never all that great at saying no. From an early age, I was a people pleaser. Plus, I run on activity so I didn’t mind the frenzied schedule and growing to do list. Things are changing though, and I’m now having to learn to say no.
The most important change is that I’m part of a family of five. I get so little time with my husband and kids. I leave the house at 7:30 am and don’t return until nearly 6 pm Monday through Friday. That means, best case, I get from 6 pm to 8:30 pm during the week. And that’s if nothing comes up. So everything I say yes to, a new board appointment, a speaking engagement, an after hours meeting, has to be worth the few precious hours I’m giving up with my family.
The most recent change though is that I’m getting asked to do more things by more people who I do not know well. By virtue of my new job or the blog or my involvement with a few high-profile organizations, I am now getting asked to attend breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with people I do not have a personal relationship with. I don’t know about you working moms, but it’s already nearly impossible for me to schedule a sliver of time with the girlfriends I do have! However, I couldn’t figure out a way to say no to these lunch requests without it seeming rude. It was not at all a reflection on the people asking to schedule something, but more a reflection on just how little time I have with my family in these precious years.
So I asked a couple of girlfriends and got some great advice on how to approach these situations. If you find yourself in a similar situation, needing to say no but not wanting to seem rude, aloof, or unfeeling, these might also work for you:
- Be Honest. The best advice I got was from my best friend, “I’d just send a response that says you tend to take lunch at your desk because you like to leave at a “reasonable time” to get home to the kids.” This is the truth. I have so many mandatory lunches with work and board commitments, that the few free days I have I really like to work from my desk. I pop downstairs, grab a salad, and come right back up to my desk and keep working so I can get off in time to spend time with the kiddos. So you know what, I did just that. And the person receiving the response totally understood.
- Pool the Invitations. My other girlfriend said, “you could mention that there are one or two other people you also met through XYZ and that with everyone’s limited free time, maybe you could all get together for lunch. That way you have one lunch and get the benefit of meeting 2 or 3 people.” That way, if you feel it’s a must-do meet for professional reasons, you can still get multiple benefits out of one event. Not to mention, you may be helping the others by expanding their network.
- Find a Common Event. This works great for me because a lot of my invitations stem from people I’m meeting at a mutual organization we have in common. So a simple reply such as, “I can’t make it but I’ll see you at the next Women’s Energy Network event” or “I’m so busy right now but I’d love to catch up with you at the church/neighborhood picnic” allows you to connect without adding one more item to your already busy calendar.
It can be hard to say no. Particularly when you are trying to be gracious. But the most important thing is for you to ask if your “yes” will take away from your top three priorities. If so, then find a way to say “no” and develop boundaries so your family and work don’t suffer.