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The One Skill You Have To Learn

Want to be successful? In that search, you can enter a maze of YouTube videos, articles, and gurus. There is a legion of twenty-something entrepreneurs living in their parents’ basements cranking out online courses on how you too can enjoy their living large lifestyle.

We are bombarded with information. Most of it is useless. The secret is finding the signal through all that noise.

What is the signal for success? What is the one principle you need to follow?

Who says no

Steve Jobs was co-founder and CEO of Apple. Warren Buffet is chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, and arguably one of the world’s richest men. wrote how both he lived by no.

The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything. — Warren Buffet

Steve Jobs echoed that sentiment.

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

Your time is your greatest asset. Saying no allows you to use that asset to its greatest extent. You will be able to focus on what you need to be doing.

photo by Alexa Gorn

The fear of saying no

A common fear of saying no is being labeled a jerk by friends, family, and peers at work. While some of that fear is unrealistic, part of it isn’t.

We all belong to a tribe. Our species evolved in small groups where getting along with each other was necessary for survival. Groups have implied rules. And while we no longer live in prehistoric conditions, the tribes we belong to also have regulations. Sometimes they can be “We get together for football every time our team plays” or “We go out for drinks after work every Friday.” Saying no may jeopardize your place in the group. It’s a realistic concern. The goal is to maintain your relationships while still meeting your goals.

An unrealistic fear of saying no is based in the spotlight effect. Verywellmind explains what the effect is.

The spotlight effect is a term used by social psychologists to refer to the tendency we have to overestimate how much other people notice about us. In other words, we tend to think there is a spotlight on us at all times, highlighting all of our mistakes or flaws, for all the world to see.

This cognitive fallacy predisposes us to believe people are noticing us far more than we are. We may be at the center of our own show, but we are not the center of anyone else’s. It’s easy to think if we dodge out of an activity, our position in the group is jeopardized. However, that feeling may be the result of the spotlight effect.

Saying no will probably not be the end of the world.

Before saying no

Being socially adroit isn’t magic. A person being able to network a crowd is the result of learning certain skills. While some of it may be the person naturally being sociable, even they had to learn what works and what doesn’t. These folks can say no and still seem likable. That’s something to aspire to.

Christine Carter has a Ph.D. in sociology and wrote on how to say no for Greater Good Magazine. She explains it’s best to be prepared.

It is much easier to say no to an invitation when we have a concrete reason for doing so — a way to justify our refusal beyond the vague notion that we should avoid the commitment in question.

This means that we need to create the rules for saying no before we need it. We need a decision making structure to guide us so that we don’t have to agonize over every invitation.

Sit down and reflect on the times when you should say no. Be prepared.

How to say no

Just as rules make it easy to recognize situations when you should be saying no, there are strategies that will assist you. You won’t have to fumble around for a way to refuse an invitation if you already have a tactful way of doing it.

PsychCentral has a few suggestions for how to say no.

Keep your response simple. If you want to say no, be firm and direct. Use phrases such as “Thanks for coming to me but I’m afraid it’s not convenient right now” or “I’m sorry but I can’t help this evening.” Try to be strong in your body language and don’t over-apologize. Remember, you’re not asking permission to say no.

Buy yourself some time. Interrupt the ‘yes’ cycle, using phrases like “I’ll get back to you,” then consider your options. Having thought it through at your leisure, you’ll be able to say no with greater confidence.

Consider a compromise. Only do so if you want to agree with the request, but have limited time or ability to do so. Suggest ways forward to suit both of you. Avoid compromising if you really want or need to say no.

Separate refusal from rejection. Remember you’re turning down a request, not a person. People usually will understand that it is your right to say no, just as it is their right to ask the favor.

Don’t feel guilty for saying no to your children. It is important for them to hear no from time to time so that they develop a sense of self-control. It is hard to negotiate adult life without this important skill. Rather than cave in to their protests, let them know who is in charge by setting boundaries.

Be true to yourself. Be clear and honest with yourself about what you truly want. Get to know yourself better and examine what you really want from life.

Keeping your answer simple is a great strategy when dealing with potentially awkward situations. The person you’re saying no to may feel confused if you offer a lengthy explanation.

Compassion is key. Remember, the world can be a tough place. Be mindful not to add to the unpleasantness if you can help it.

I’m a comedy writer, podcaster, YouTuber, and activist. Millions have read my material and laughed. Support my work on Patreon:

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