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Apple’s Steve Jobs once said, “[Innovation] comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.”

Ponder that for a moment. Wouldn’t you rather be remembered for the iPhone instead of creating five mediocre products that ended up in Apple’s recycling bin?

Most of us have a problem saying ‘no’ to favors and opportunities. Why? People fear the consequences of what may happen if they don’t say ‘yes.’

Why Say ‘No’

‘No:’ ‘Two letters. One syllable. Tons of drama.’

That’s a pretty spot on assessment. Most people avoid saying ‘no’ at all costs, but why? Well, turns out there are lots of reasons. The fear of missing out, or even job security keep people saying ‘yes’ to tasks they don’t want to do.

Here’s the crux of the problem. When people can’t say ‘no’ they risk becoming overwhelmed by their increasingly fuller plate. As a result, they spread themselves too thin trying to do everything for everyone else and become stressed. Negative effects from stress can include producing sloppy work and an “Oscar the Grouch” demeanor. And nobody likes a grouch.

When you put your foot down you, you’re doing yourself a favor by giving yourself work-life balance, a positive side effect. Work-life balance is exactly how it sounds: your two realms (home and work) are pretty much zen. No stress, grumpiness, or tears. It’s all good.

When to Say ‘No’

So how do you know when to say ‘no’? Well, just because I’m stressed out today doesn’t mean I can’t handle taking on another project tomorrow.

Here’s how you know when it’s time to step back and to say ‘no.’ Ask yourself, are you lacking:

If you answered yes to one or more of these factors, then, yes, you are in a position to say ‘no’ with a guilt-free conscience.

How to Say ‘No’

The hardest part about saying ‘no’ is, well, saying it. Before uttering that one syllable word, take a deep breath and remember to compromise, be assertive, and stand firm.

1. Offer a Compromise

CEOs often feel pressure. The money train never stops whether it’s requests from the community or employees. The question is how to say ‘no’ without damaging your company’s reputation in the community and keep your employees happy. Well, depends on the situation.

You’ve been asked to donate to a charity. Your company is known for its charitable contributions, often donating to the same charities year after year. But, revenue is down this quarter, and you’ve had to reduce your charitable spending budget. Some of these organizations rely on your donation, but what do you do? Sure, you don’t want to be a “Mr. Scrooge,” but you also need to keep your company afloat until sales rebound. Try offering alternatives like:

If all else fails, explain to your contact that while you wish you could donate this year, you’re just not able to and wish them the best with the event or fundraising efforts. You might be surprised by just how many people are okay with that.

On the flip side, when you’re dealing with an internal request like employees asking for raises, it’s important to not damage worker morale. Be upfront and explain that the budget is tight and give a time frame for how long raises will be frozen. Again, offer a compromise to placate them in the meantime, like extra comp time or flexible hours.

2. Be Assertive

It’s important to keep in mind that how you deliver your ‘no’ will make a huge impact on the outcome. Be polite, but don’t be passive.

You have an industry colleague who’s hounding you to help market a product, but he wants you to do it pro bono. You’re busy and not looking to take on an unpaid gig. This friend has emailed and called you, but you haven’t responded. Choosing not to give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer is being passive. By giving no response, you’re leaving that person hanging, and that’s even worse than saying ‘no’. People will think you can’t make a decision and that hurts your credibility.

Instead be assertive. Thank your colleague for the opportunity but firmly let him know you’re not interested. Follow-up with a suggestion like, “Have you thought about having marketing interns do it for class credit?”

You said ‘no’ but also offered a solution. Win-win.

3. Stand Firm

Be prepared to stand your ground when faced with a persistent asker. He or she will pester you with follow-ups, hoping to break you down.

Many IT folks have encountered outrageous requests often with little notice. Imagine being asked to build a complicated database within 24 hours. You have no idea what the database is for or what it needs to do, and are provided little-to-no direction. Logically you can’t build something until you know all the requirements. And even with those requirements, these requests take more than 24 hours to build, test, make adjustments, re-test, and approve.

Sometimes the response is surprisingly simple, “I’m so sorry, but I can’t,” or one of these handy canned responses. Why? The scope of the project is much more extensive than the person requesting the project understands. But be sure to explain why you cannot complete the project in that given timeframe. In this instance, the requester might simply be unaware of the depth of the project requested, and need a reality check.

Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’. Saying ‘no’ means less stress, and ultimately, your work life and family life will be the better for it. At the end of the day, do what’s best for you: just say ‘no.’

What are your suggestions for saying ‘no’? Have you ever encountered a person who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer? How did you handle it? Share your thoughts below.