Learning how to say no is one of the best ways to reduce your stress level. Use it to protect your personal time and resources, and to avoid the resentment you feel when you allow yourself to be pushed into saying yes. Learn it and use it.

Think how you feel when you agree to do something you don’t want to do for someone you resent, or when you give up your time to meet the demands of others instead of attending to your own priorities. Stressed!

Learning how to say no is one of the best ways to reduce your stress level. Learn it and use it. The longer you allow others to assume that you are always available to fit in with their plans and demands, the more difficult it becomes to change your behaviour – and theirs. This is true both at work and in your personal life.

Sophie has allowed her manager to assume she is regularly available for work on Saturdays, but in the conversation below she resists a request that they meet on a Saturday morning because of a commitment she has already made.

Notice how she checks that she understands exactly what her manager wants and acknowledges its urgency, then explainsthe commitment she has made to her family calmly and without apology.Silence can be very powerful in difficult conversations. Sophie uses it to resist pressure to change her plan but softens her refusal by offering a compromise.

When Sophie relocated she planned to get home at least once every month. She knew that her boyfriend and her family missed her, but she had been finding it useful to use some of the weekend to catch up on emails and plan for the coming week. Several times previously she and her manager Julie had met on Saturdays mornings. This week she had worked late every day to be sure that she could fly home on Friday for a weekend at home.

On Thursday afternoon, the phone rang.It was Julie. ‘Listen, Sophie, I need some figures for the executive meeting on Monday morning, so I thought that we could get together early on Saturday, to go through everything.’

Sophie listened carefully. ‘Julie, can I check that I’ve understood what you need? I want to be sure I’m clear. I know the meeting is important.’When she understood the detail of information that was needed, Sophie took a breath and said, ‘Julie, I’ve booked a flight to go home tomorrow evening. It’s the first weekend I’ll be home in six weeks. I’ve been missing my family and I’m looking forward to seeing them all again.I can get this to you tomorrow, before the end of the afternoon. My flight is only at six o’clock. But I won’t be able to meet with you on Saturday. I hope you understand. I’ll be available on my cell over the weekend, and we can also talk on Monday morning if you need to.’

‘Well, I suppose so,’ Julie replied after a pause. ‘I was hoping you’d be around on Saturday, so we could discuss any final details. I didn’t expect you’d be going home.’

Sophie stayed silent, resisting the temptation to offer to postpone her flight and after a moment Julie continued, ‘I suppose it will do if you get it all to me tomorrow afternoon.’

Saying no can be simple and easy if you resist the temptation to give excuses and apologise unnecessarily. Rehearse what you will say the next time you are confronted. Be sure the person knows you have listened to and considered their request. Presentthe reasons for your decision clearly, so they are able to understand and respect the basis for it. Say no. Then feel your stress level start to drop.

Click to see the latest Straight Talk book: How to manage conversations that scare you, filled with conversations like this one.

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