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Saying no should be the rule, not the exception

Saying no is implicitly negative. But that doesn’t mean it’s negative for the world, your project, or your time. In a world full of distractions, we are always pushed to make positive choices. If we couldn’t say no, we would:

  • Work in jobs we dislike

  • End up in relationships we dislike

  • Eat stuff we dislike

  • Commit to activities we don’t enjoy

  • Have unwanted responsibilities that restrict our freedom

Some symptoms of this happening in a professional context are:

  • Being always busy trying to please other people’s wants

  • De-prioritizing priorities and prioritizing what other people want from you

  • Not being able to meet your goals, yet feeling very busy and overwhelmed

This has happened to all us in our lifetime. Committing to that event, to that call, to writing that email, doing that intro…

If you are experiencing the above, it should be fine to say no. Yet sometimes people can think you are rude for declining. Why does that happen?

Information asymmetry leads to reduced empathy

Why is it that sometimes we think of some people as rude when they say no? We took the time to make a proposal, yet they don’t take the time to review it and the time to commit to it?

Well, the answer may be lack of information, which leads to lack of empathy. A good example are events. If someone looked at my agenda, they would guess that I cannot attend to more events this year. But since the other person doesn’t have the information, they don’t know. They could do a search of all important crypto events and see if I’m talking, but that would be cumbersome for them. Thus they go forward and invite me to their event as well.

It’s not like I don’t want to attend their event, it’s just that I have too many.

In this case, and most cases I’d say, it’s not that people want to take advantage of us, but that they don’t know our context. If they knew, they wouldn’t propose it to us in the first place.

This is a very important realization. Other people don’t know our context as we do. So when someone proposes something to you, think this:

If they were me and knew everything I know, would they still propose this?

If the answer is no, then you should automatically decline.

Priority misalignment

Another realization is that people like to push their roadmap. We all have our particular roadmap, whether purely personal or part of a project. When people make decisions, like making proposals to someone else, keep this in mind. While your priority #1 is your role and project, theirs is their role and their project!

This is a very obvious realization, but helps to prevent situations in which you end up feeling used.

Doesn’t feel right? It’s probably a no

We try to convince ourselves that things may change, but truth is that our gut is usually very accurate. If you are very busy with your core goals, every minute you invest into something is a bet you make. Be conscious about that. If you make a bet, consider it so.

If you don’t want to make a bet, then pass! If you do want to make a bet but it doesn’t feel right, then pass a well!

Saying no as a way to regain focus

We all have our priorities very clear, until the world bombs us with decisions to make. Then they gradually become less clear… and sometimes we lose them completely.

If you don’t say no, you can end up with weird situations. Like having more commitments with people outside your team than with your teammates. Or spending more time in random tasks than in tasks aligned with your goals.

Politely declining

There are many ways to decline a proposal, some are:

  • Giving context to the other person on your rejection motive. Example: I cannot make it to this event because I have my event year fully booked

  • Mentioning that you wouldn’t be able to commit because you wouldn’t meet expectations. Example: I’d love to, but if I did I probably wouldn’t be able to carry it on well… so I prefer not to commit and set false expectations

  • Referring to internal policies. Example: I’d love to take a look, but we have a very strict policy on the kinds of projects we fund. So I think your project would fit better into another program

  • Referring to personal policies. Example: Great connecting! Unfortunately I don’t use Telegram for work, so just send me an email!

And, if the other party was thoughtful about their proposal, be thankful! At the end of the day, it’s beautiful that people think of you or your project. The fact that you are declining shouldn’t interfere with being nice and respectful.

With that said, thanks for reading! 👋


You can find more posts about personal productivity in my series about it.