Stress Wärnings: Saying no, but in a positive fashion

“I put a spell on you … because you’re mine” (photo: Pixabay)
November 9th, 2021 4:56 am| by Birgitte Wärn
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One of the most important tools to fight stress with is the ability to say “no” to tasks and give realistic deadlines. 

Even harder than sorry
Saying “no” is difficult for many people, not least in the workplace, where there is the fear that “no” will be interpreted as an expression of a lack of skills or co-operation – or that the conversation ends with you being deprived of the very tasks you find most interesting. 

In addition, it can be difficult to speak out, because you know that the task you have said no to is likely to end up on your colleague’s desk – and you do not want to be a contributing factor in someone else getting stressed. 

The solution to this problem is not for you to refrain from saying “no”, but for the workplace to create a culture in which everyone feels that speaking out about a lack of resources is permitted. 

This comes with an additional advantage. From a management point of view, it can be difficult to know whether there is a resource problem, if employees do not speak out.

How to say no 
Many do not speak out in time, because they simply do not know how to say “no” in a constructive way. In ‘The Little Guide to An Almost Stress-Free Life’ I present an overall template for a constructive refusal.

It consists of three procedures: 1/ Express a positive starting point and/or understanding of the other person’s situation; 2/ Make your refusal and explain why; 3/ Say what you can actually offer, either now or in the future. 

Examples in practice
There are many ways to use the template. 

For example, you could say: “I understand that we are in a position of need after Peter has resigned, and I would like to help. At the moment, I can’t take on more tasks, but I will be glad to assist Jill, if you give her the task.”  

Or: “I agree that we have to complete this task. Unfortunately, I cannot meet the specified deadline because I have many other assignments right now. If, on the other hand, the deadline can be postponed by a week, I would very much like to take care of it.” 

The examples here are drawn from work situations, but you can also use the model for a constructive refusal in your personal life. 

Take good care of yourself!

Birgitte Wärn


Birgitte is an expert within the field of communication, stress management and conflict solving. She has more than 20 years of experience in teaching and helping companies to achieve  a better work environment. She is the author of a series of handbooks called ‘The Little Guide’. See birgittewarn.dk for more information.

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