We all know we should say, 'No,' but that doesn't stop it from feeling uncomfortable. The best way to overcome this? Practice, practice, practice. Here are some strategies for saying it with grace:
Say it fast. Don’t lead people on for weeks in the hope that they will forget the ask.
Be clear. Don’t say something vague that keeps the door open. No “not at this time,” “I’m not sure,” or “maybe next time.”
Explain why briefly. Give one sentence of context. "I am behind on my other priorities, so can't take on anything new."
Create a policy. It's not personal, but across the board. "To focus on my priorities, I've decided to take on no new projects for the next month."
Offer a trade-off. "I would love to help with that, but am at capacity. What do you recommend I take off my plate to focus on this?"
'No and...' Offer to provide value in another way. "I don't have the bandwidth right now, but here are articles that helped when I faced a similar problem."
Delay. If you will have more time later and want to help: "I'm in the middle of crunch time, but if this can wait until April, I'd be happy to meet then."
Create a win-win. Would someone else view this as an opportunity? "I, unfortunately, can't work on this, but this is an opportunity for Susan to grow."
For the next week, try to say, 'No' at least once a day. Saying, 'No' opens up so much 'Yes' in your life. Do it.