What is the Hardest Word in the English Language to Say?

Have you ever found yourself doing something you didn’t want to do just because you couldn’t say no?  I certainly have had the experience and so have my clients.  Here are a few examples of what I mean.

One of my clients, Bill, lost his job just before his wife gave birth to twins.  Bill was an enormous help to his wife in the first weeks that the twins were home.  Needless to say Bill didn’t get to his job search very often.  His wife began to rely and often depend on having Bill to help her.  Bill found it very difficult to set some limits on his time even though both he and his wife knew the importance of his finding a new job.

When I started my coaching business I had a friend who constantly reminded me about the risk I was taking.  Every comment he made about my business seemed to start with the words, “You’ll never”.  I knew that his attitude was having a negative affect on me but I was afraid to jeopardize our friendshop by telling him to stop.

Susan belonged to several organizations.  Because she was an excellent organizer and leader each organization wanted her to take a position on their board.  Susan found her time split between three different organizations and then a fourth asked her to become membership chairperson.  With a full time job and a family Susan was overwhelmed by all that she had to do.  Her challenge was to say ‘no’ to the new request and then  to cut back on the work she was doing in the other three.  How could she do this nicely without showing any anger, frustration, or resentment?

How do you set the limits on what you will and won’t do in your business and personal life?  It is one of the most important skills you can develop.  What do you do when a friend, colleague, family member asks you to do something you just don’t have time to do or something you know you don’t want to do?  Do you agree to do it and then become resentful afterwards?  Someone once told me that in the English language the hardest word to learn to use is “No”.

Recently a company asked to use one of my lists in a workbook they were writing for their franchisees.  I was delighted.   Then they sent me a release to sign that was in the usual legal language that I always think I understand but never really do.  Thanks to my networking I know a few business lawyers but I was reluctant to call one.  Since the company wasn’t paying me for the list, I didn’t want to pay attorneys fees.

When I did finally contact one here is the message I got back from her:

“I will review the release and discuss it with you for no charge for up to 30 minutes of my time.  If more time is required and you want me to spend more time, then you would pay me $150/hour for anything beyond 30 minutes.  I haven’t yet looked at the document, but my hope is that we could get this done within 30 minutes.  If not, it would be up to you if you want me to continue.”

What a wonderful way to give me a gift and yet clearly let me know the limits of that gift!  Hopefully she feels good about this offer as well.

What are the steps you might use in setting a clear boundary in a way that is friendly, caring and firm?  I always like to start with acknowledging something and then setting the limit clearly.

Here are some examples:

Bill might say to his wife, “ I really love to help you with the babies. It feels good to be useful but if I don’t set aside time to work on finding a job I’ll never find one.  The time needs to be uninterrupted just as though I were at work because I really am.  From now on I am going to be in my office working on my job search from 9AM to 3PM.  I know I can count on you to be sure that I am only interrupted if there is an emergency.”

I could have said to my friend, “ I know you are concerned for me and don’t want me to be hurt.  You are a good friend.  What I really need now is to be surrounded by supportive friends who see the possibilities in my business.  If you can’t do that for me, then I will need to spend my time with other friends who can do that.”

Susan might have said, “ This organization does wonderful work.  I feel honored to be asked to do this.  Right now I am over committed with my job, family and other organizations so I cannot accept the position of membership chairperson.  Perhaps you could ask Mary Smith.”

Seems easy when you are writing it on paper.  How do you do it in the moment?  Practice!  Get the words together now so that when it happens you’ll be ready.

Take Action

  1. Ask yourself where you are over committed or where you are constantly asked to donate your services or where someone is assuming you will do something that you do not want to do.
  2. Imagine someone asking you to do or give more. What will you say?
  3. Practice saying the words out loud.
  4. Test it on a friend, coach* or colleague .
  5. Send for my list of 10 ways to say “No” when you are feeling overwhelmed.    Send me an email  asparker@asparker.com> with “Ways to say No.”as the subject.

*Looking for a coach to work with on setting limits?  I’d love to be your coach!  Call me at 781-598-0388 or email me at asparker@asparker.com to set up an appointment


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