4 Ways to Say No

Do you know when to say no?

Many of us are uncomfortable saying no because we don’t want to disappoint, or be thought of as uncooperative.

Many fear possible repercussions and this can especially be the case for dedicated professionals such teachers, teaching assistants and lecturers.

It can be particularly hard for those in the early stages of their careers, particularly in times when schools are under increasing pressure.

Being realistic about what you can do however, whilst knowing when and how best to say no to the things you can’t, can help you manage your workload, stay healthy and keep excessive stress at bay.

Here are 4 top tips from the experts to help you say no:

1. Know your priorities

Make a list. As well as work responsibilities, include other important things like spending time with friends and family and looking after your own wellbeing.

Think about how much time you should allocate to your priorities and how much capacity you have to do more. Think about what saying ‘yes’ would mean and what it would look like.

Ask for time to consider extra requests and think strategically. How does it fit?

Even if difficult, is it worth doing and could it actually help save time or aid you, your career or your team in the long-run? If so, it might be worth considering re-prioritising, dropping something with your short, medium or long-term priorities?

2. Set realistic expectations

No-one wants to be known as the person who always over-promises and under-delivers.

Agreeing to take on extra work, then struggling to deliver because you don’t have the capacity can be frustrating for everyone.

If you’re lucky enough to be in a school where honesty and open dialogue is encouraged, that’s great. Longer-term, building a positive relationship with your line manager and leadership team is essential to being able to feel you can present your views confidently and be taken seriously as a professional. Feel confident in saying ‘no’ if you need to and give reasons why.

If it’s not so easy, be as clear as you can as to why you can’t do it. Encourage realistic expectations of what you can and can’t achieve at this present time and be honest and upfront about it from the start. It may be that the person making the request did not have a realistic understanding of what it would involve and may then understand better that they will need to seek an alternative option or extra resources.

3. Consider alternatives

Peter Bregman, a leadership expert and author of ‘Leading with emotional courage,’ talks of the importance of building trusted relationships and ‘growing’ emotional courage amongst modern leaders to break patterns and take more risks as key to success.

This could be a chance to suggest a different approach that may not have been considered previously.

Could it actually sit better with a different team or is it something that could happen more effectively over a longer period of time? Is it important enough to propose as a broader team-project?

4. Don’t feel pressure to respond immediately

If a request interests you, but you aren’t sure whether you should say yes, give yourself some time to think about it. You don’t have to decide immediately.

In the meantime, you could say: 'Thank you for considering me for this. Let me check my diary before I commit' or 'I appreciate you asking me. I'm going to take time to fully consider this, I will respond as soon as I can.'

If you decide to turn the request down, be clear that you’ve thought it through. You could say something like: 'I don’t have time right now, but I'll let you know if that changes.’ You could suggest an interim solution or discuss with colleagues who may have found a quick solution or have some of the answers from doing it previously.

These tips have been compiled in collaboration with Education Support.

If you're struggling, call Education Support's free and confidential 24/7 emotional support helpline on 08000 562 561.

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