I am learning how to say no. The transition from saying “Yes” to “No” has been surprisingly difficult.
For decades, I have built a great life for myself and my family. Much of this success has come from my policy of saying “Yes!”
I said yes to new referrals. I said yes to learning new procedures. I said yes to doctors who called me asking if I could see their patients sooner. I said yes to commercial real estate investment opportunities. I said yes when asked if I could start earlier or add a patient on the end of the day. I said yes to interviewing for a new position. I said yes to exploring the option of going to business school. Saying yes has been awesome in developing success throughout virtually every aspect of my life.
Now that I have reached midlife, I am in a transition. I must turn off a lot of the “yes.” I must turn on some “no” in a major way. I have more money and less time. This is the opposite of when I started out so I need a different strategy. All I need to do is say “no” a lot. This has been surprisingly difficult since I have so little practice at saying no.
I’m making a study of how to do it. I’ve learned you can practice in front of the mirror saying no to yourself. Even that sounds weird. Over time it does seem more natural.
I’m also practicing saying no to other people over smaller and trivial items just, so I can get used to it. It is a little bit of a shock for people to hear you say it when they’ve never heard that before from you. At first, it doesn’t sound convincing at all and they just ignore it and assume you’ll go back to your normal ways. With time they realize that you not only said no but you mean it.
From Greg McKeown’s book, “Essentialism; the Disciplined Pursuit of Less” I learned that there are several different kinds of no.
1. The awkward pause.
Sometimes just inserting a little time and space will help. You can collect your thoughts. It gives them an opportunity to change or retract as well. As in, “Oh, you know what? I know how much you do. Never mind. I will ask Karen if she is available. Don’t worry about it.”
2. The soft “no” (for the “no but”).
Such as, “I can’t do lunch this week, but maybe we could meet for coffee in January?”
3. “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.”
This is a useful stall tactic. It seems and is quite reasonable. Busy people have calendars that they need to consult before committing. Even if you know you will decline it, it buys you some time.
4. Use email bounce backs.
Many of us use these when on vacation. They can be an option when you are swamped too. As in, “I’m deep in work of writing my thesis now. I will dig my way out in about 2 months. You may not hear much from me before then.”
5. “Yes. What should I deprioritize?”
This is a perfect one to use on your boss. If you have a supervisor who keeps dumping work on you have them look at all your projects and tell you which one to drop. This is a non-confrontational way of limiting your work, focusing your time, and staying on the same page as your boss.
6. Say it with humor.
“Heck no, I would rather keep my scheduled root canal appointment!”
7. “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.”
If someone wants you to drive them to the airport: “You are welcome to use my Uber account. I’m willing to set up the ride for you.”
8. “I can’t do it, but X might be interested.”
I’m limiting my medico-legal work for now, but my friend Dr. French would be interested. Would you like his contact info?
When I first started telling myself and others that I was learning how to say no I was joking. Over time I realized it is in fact a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. Then I felt silly that I needed to learn this at midlife. I felt somewhat better after seeing other intelligent and successful people struggling as well.
Tim Ferriss has a podcast on this topic. He noted how impressed he was with certain rejection letters. He asked successful people to join him on the podcast that would be transcribed into a book. Since he has a great track record: millions of blog readers, book readers, and podcast listeners. Furthermore, he has written multiple New York Times best-selling books. To get an invite from him was an appealing offer. Nevertheless, some turned him down and did it with style. From this experience he saw a pattern that worked very well. After these people told him no, he had even more respect for them - not less - since they handled it so well.
I started using Tim Ferriss’s advice and it has worked well so far. Here is the pattern he noticed:
- Thank the person for the invitation. Give a genuine compliment and express your sincere respect and gratitude.
- Be clear and emphatic that you are turning it down.
- Explain why you cannot take on this new task.
- Refer to a policy that you are following. This makes it logically consistent and much less personal. For example, “I recently instituted a policy that I will not agree to any lunch meetings for the next 12 months.”
- Close while noting that you likely will regret your decision to pass on this opportunity. Wish them luck and success.
How about you? What is your philosophy on saying no? How comfortable are you with rejecting people when you say no? Do you agree with me that saying yes is an awesome and powerful way to build a successful medical practice or business? Do you think we have to learn how to transition from “yes” to “no” later in our career? If so have you heard of any good tips on how to do that?
With practice you can get great at saying "No!" - just like most of the women I have tried to date over the years!