The Art of Saying "No" and Why it Matters

Friend 1: What are you doing this weekend?

Friend 2: I have to make decorations for a baby shower I’m planning. It’s the third one I’ve thrown in the last two months. I really don’t have time, but I couldn’t say no.

Friend 1: I know what you mean. I’m babysitting my friend’s 6-month-old twins. It was supposed to be a one-time thing, but I do it every week now.

Friend 2: I wish I could say no sometimes, but I’m just such a yes-person.

Friend 1: Me too! I never want to be rude, especially when it’s one of my friends.

I was listening in on this conversation at work when one of the girls turned to me and said, “Do you have a hard time saying no, too?”

My honest answer was no.

I’m not a natural born naysayer. In fact, I used to be a big time yes-person. But these days, I say no far more often than I say yes. I wish I could say it was a gradual, intentional shift in perspective. But it took me almost losing my life to realize that time was limited and I needed to guard it as precious.

My pregnancy was not an easy one. Turns out, my body wasn’t really designed to carry three babies at once.

At only 28 weeks gestation with triplets, I was admitted into the hospital with preeclampsia. I tried to grow those sweet babies for as long as I could. Meanwhile, fluid was slowly leaking into my lungs. Even with an oxygen mask on constantly, the oxygen levels in my blood were critically low.

At 29 weeks and 5 days, with fluid gradually accumulating around my brain, my doctor decided that it was too dangerous for me to hold on any longer. Whether they were ready or not, it was time to deliver my three precious miracles into the world.

Due to the position of the babies, they had to cut through an artery during delivery. I was already informed of this and they were prepared to control the bleeding with a powerful anticoagulant. Sadly, due to a miscommunication the medicine was not delivered in time and I began to bleed aggressively. Faced with a potential crisis, the doctor valiantly delivered all three babies in less than three minutes and closed off the artery, saving my life.

For the next 17 hours, I wandered in and out of consciousness as I received multiple blood transfusions. As I drifted, I wondered if I would live to see my children. I questioned whether or not I would ever be held by my husband again.

Meanwhile, my husband was torn between being with his wife or his babies. He had to divide his time between the four different rooms where his family members were fighting for their lives.

Often, when I woke, I was in an empty room. It was during one of these moments, as I gazed at the flashing monitors and wires attached to my body, that I resolved to make it. Not only would I make it, but also I would make my family the most important part of my life. Always.

It was more than a day after the babies were born that I was finally wheeled into the NICU to see them. For the first time in my life, I knew exactly where my priorities were. They were the tiny bodies in incubators in front of me, and the man holding my hand beside me. My family.  

The weeks and months following the birth of my children were difficult. I said no to everything that wasn’t my family. I turned down projects at work, quit the military, let go of my career for a while, and focused on them. I was ruthless in my ability to walk away, and sometimes unkind.

As I healed, I was able to make room for more. But, no matter what I chose, I did so with intention. If it didn’t align with my priorities or get me excited, I chose not to do it.

I am no longer unkind when I turn down opportunities, but I also never apologize for saying no. Here is my simple formula:

  1. Let the person asking you know that you understand their request is important.
  2. Tell them you cannot do it.
  3. Offer a consolation.
  4. Drive the conversation a different direction.

Here’s what that might look like:

PTA President: We were hoping you would head the committee for the Spring Fling.

You: That’s a really important job. The Spring Fling is the biggest fundraiser of the year. I can’t do it. I would be happy to donate a basket for the raffle. What kind of baskets are you looking for this year?

If you’re a habitual yes-person and this seems daunting, try saying no to a request via email first. That gives you the opportunity to think about what you are going to say and draft the response thoughtfully.

This method has worked very well for me. Saying no to many of the little things has given me the opportunity to say yes to some big things while still making time for my family.

When it comes to organizing your life, take time recognize your priorities. Be discerning about what you allow to take up your time. Create some negative space. It is in these empty margins that life happens. Make sure you’re not crowding out life with to-do lists.

The Beautiful Krysta Manning is the fantastic mum and blogger over at The Thoughtful !

Krysta is mom to 2 year old triplets and shares her beautiful life on her website. I am constantly in awe of this woman and how she manages to run her household, be a mom of 3 babies and also run her amazing blog! Wow! Drop by and say "hello!" to her today!