Setting boundaries and saying no doesn’t have to be so difficult with help from best-selling author Jay Papasan. He offers a range of options from delicate to direct to help you guard your time and energy.

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Saying no is easy when Bark Twain and Winnie the Poodle play tug of war with our Nike Air Force 1s. The rest of the time, it’s hard. This is especially true when we must say no to our family, friends, co-workers and clients.

Part of the challenge is that we routinely overestimate the cost of saying no. Will they think I’m rude or selfish? If I decline today, will I still get invited next time? Still, the only way to take ownership of our limited time is to control our commitments with strategic nos.

“When you say yes to something, it’s imperative that you understand what you’re saying no to.”  — The ONE Thing

11 ways to say no (without saying no)

Please enjoy and employ these 11 ways to say no (without saying no).

1. Get ahead of the ask

When you time-block your big rocks, it gives you a built-in response. “I’m sorry. I already have a commitment at that time.” Note, if that time is dedicated to solo work, avoid the mistake of sharing that info. People will assume you’re meeting with someone and see the block as immovable. 

2. Be on a mission

You are 100 percent engaged. You move through the workspace without making eye contact. Sometimes your speed and body language say it all. Everyone will have to hold their requests for later. Waiters everywhere have mastered the no-eye-contact part of this technique.

3. Delay the decision

You could also call this one “No now, maybe later.” Just reply, “ I can’t right now, can I get back to you?” Many “urgent” requests come with a short expiration date. By the time you circle back, they may have figured it out for themselves (parents with teenagers take note) or found an alternative resource (see No. 10). 

4. Escalate commitment

This is basically a conditional yes. If they agree to your request, you will agree to theirs. They need to have some skin in the game. Scale your counter-proposal to the scope of their ask.

You can request that they email you the details, complete a form, review a document or even sign a contractual agreement (buyer rep agreement, anyone?). You’d be amazed how many people can’t be bothered to even follow up with an email. 

5. Shift the deadline

Similar to Delay the Decision, this is “No, now. Yes, later.” Remember the old “Gone Fishin’” signs? They usually had adjustable clock faces to indicate when the storekeeper would reopen. You can’t meet today, but you’d be happy to at 1 p.m. or 3 p.m. next Tuesday.

6. Align on the priority 

Sometimes people just get caught up in the flow. They dive in without thinking. Even if you are the subordinate, you can raise the question, “Shouldn’t we be working on ____ instead?” They will either agree or provide evidence to the contrary.

7. Appeal to fairness

When you’re stretched thin, worn out and staring at a request that strongly resembles the proverbial last straw, appeal to their sense of fairness. “I would love to help you out, but I already made commitments to [coworkers, clients, etc.] … It wouldn’t be fair to them to not follow through. Thanks for understanding.” This strategy comes in handy when someone ignores your Cite Conflicts. 

8. Cite conflicts

This is an escalation clause. Sometimes you have to spell it out. You simply won’t violate a commitment you made to your family, friends, partners or clients. To blow through this stop sign would violate your principles, and to ask you to violate them anyway would display their lack of principles. 

9. Batch decisions

This is the love child of Delay the Decision and Shift the Deadline with a smidgeon of bureaucracy. No phones at the dinner table. We pay invoices on the 15th and 30th. We consider all offers that come in over the weekend at 9 a.m. on Mondays. You’d love to say yes, but rules are rules. 

10. Alternate resource

If you are being asked for help on something to which you can’t contribute much or don’t have resources to help, you are the wrong person. It’s time to direct traffic. Have you already tried [correct person]? Did you ask Mom? Maybe, you aren’t the optimal place to start. I bet you can do this if you first read this book/watch this class /read the instructions.

You can combine this with almost any other technique. One of my favorites is to first Escalate Commitment with an Alternate Resource and then offer my time.

11. Apologize with regret

This is darn close to a straight no. I’m so sorry. I can’t. I hate to say it, but I’m just not able to right now. Lean into the regret part because there is no because. You shouldn’t always have to provide evidence. In the meantime, you can reassure them it isn’t personal.

When you start saying no to requests that don’t meet your needs, you might be surprised at how easy it is. You’ll get more time for yourself, your work and the things that are most important to you. 

One question to ponder in your thinking time: How can I employ strategic nos to prevent future life regrets?

Jay Papasan is the bestselling co-author of The Millionaire Real Estate Agent, SHIFT, and The ONE Thing. He currently serves as the Vice President of Strategic Content at Keller Williams Realty, Inc.

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