For many of us, turning down a request or invitation can be extremely difficult. As women, we are often socialized to go out of our way to accommodate others, so saying “no” can leave us with feelings of guilt. We may find ourselves worrying that we’ll be seen as selfish or uncaring. But the reality is, we need to maintain healthy boundaries. We cannot possibly say “yes” to every request and invitation that comes our way, and if we try to do that, we’ll only burn ourselves out.
With that in mind, one approach that can make saying “no” more bearable is what I like to call the “Yes Sandwich.” This approach allows you to turn down a request in a way that helps to ensure that the other person won’t take your “no” personally. Here’s how it’s done:
Begin by positively acknowledging the other person’s intent. If they’re asking for your help, it’s because they feel you have worthwhile experience and insights to offer. If they’re inviting you to an event, it’s because they value your company. You can begin by saying something along the lines of, “I so appreciate your coming to me with this,” or, “I’m flattered that you’d ask.”
This is where you graciously say “no.” Rather than simply turning the other person down, you can add a few words that explain why you’re unable to give them what they’re asking for, while also letting them know they can still feel comfortable coming to you with future requests. Here’s an example: “I’d like to give you a hand with this project. Unfortunately, though, my plate is pretty full right now and I don’t think I’d do it justice. But feel free to reach out to me at another time if you’d like assistance with something similar.”
Offer an alternative. If you can’t give them what they’re asking for, maybe there is something else you can offer instead that demands less from you. If you’re unable to help them with their project today, maybe you can schedule a time to sit down with them later in the week. Or perhaps you can refer them to someone else who might be able to help. Suggesting another option demonstrates that, while your priority is to uphold your own boundaries, you are sensitive to their needs as well, and you’re willing to do what you can to support them.
Your time (and energy) is no less important than that of your coworkers, friends, and acquaintances. So there is no reason to feel badly about saying “no.” That said, it can feel quite uncomfortable to deny a request, but when you take the approach outlined here, it will likely feel much more doable.