How to Graciously Say No (and Not Feel Guilty About it)

Jenna Kutcher 

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July 26, 2017


Today I am sharing something that I feel like a lot of us struggle with because at the core of our being we are people pleasers and “yes” people but I want share about how you can graciously say no without feeling guilt and what that’s looked like in my journey as an entrepreneur within my business and within my life. So I want us to lead to our best yeses and in turn I’m going to teach you how to say no without letting others down.

Maybe you can relate? Chances are if you’re like me you may be a people pleaser and say yes to as many things as you can and are feeling stressed and burnt out. Maybe you’re taking on things that simply are not the right fit just because you aren’t great at saying no. So while this might be a weird conversation to have, I want to share my experiences with you because I have learned over time how to graciously say no, how to not feel guilty about it and really how to laser focus in on where my time is best spent.

There was a time in my business where I felt like I had to say yes to most of the opportunities that arrived in my inbox. Now? I have pretty strict criteria and say no to more things than I participate in. Why? Shauna Niequist says it best in one of my favorite books:

“But you can’t have yes without no. Another way to say it: if you’re not careful with your yeses, you start to say no to some very important things without even realizing it. In my rampant yes-yes-yes-ing, I said no, without intending to, to rest, to peace, to groundedness, to listening, to deep and slow connection, built over years instead of moments.”

– Shauna Niequist – Present Over Perfect

Before reading it, I can honestly look you in the eye and tell you that I failed to rest. I suck at it. On days where I actually had time and space to rest, I would search for something to fill my time with, avoiding the slow down, the silence. As we prepared for our time in Hawaii, I found myself welcoming the rest filled moments (however few and far in between they were.) I started to really look at life and business as a place that needed margins in order to appreciate the meat of it. Without that space, without the rest, I couldn’t appreciate the busy, the good. I’ve never worked out of a place of “have to,” I genuinely wake up excited to do what I’m about to do, but that doesn’t mean you HAVE to do it all the time, 24/7.

So what has creating margin in my life looked like?

-Clearing our schedules and flying to explore Texas and visit friends after our latest miscarriage. That was something that would have never in a million years happened even a year ago. It reminded me how far I have come in resting.
-A month sabbatical in Hawaii
-Some fun new projects including a shop, book and mastermind!
-Date nights with Drew, time with my dogs, trips, Netflix binges, a nap!

Every time I was saying yes to the small things, I was saying no to the big things. The big things that change lives, that make a bigger impact on this planet.

Saying no more has affected the profitability of my business by saying yes to the things that really drive income in my business and allow me to work from a place to rest. Often times, when an opportunity lands in your inbox it can be disguised as an opportunity to move your business forward, when in reality it is moving the other persons forward. So when I was saying yes to all of the things out of fear of missing out or disappointing someone or not making that new connection with someone. But the truth is, by saying yes to all of those opportunities, I was losing site on what was important in my business and not moving my business forward.

Now that we’ve covered why saying no is important, let’s cover how to do it graciously

Because saying no can feel a bit icky or like you’re letting people down. As a people pleaser, that was difficult at first for me. But no doesn’t have to be a negative thing and can be one of the most powerful words. Here’s how I handle it:

Explain your why:

I always try to explain a bit why I’m saying no and often get the response that they understand and are proud of me for setting the boundaries. People don’t expect you to work 24/7, and when boundaries are set – saying no is not as hard as  you might think

Support or encourage them in another way if you can

Even though I’m often saying no more than yes, I still try to support each person that lands in my inbox. If they were looking for 1:1 mentoring on a specific topic, I’ll link to freebies, blog posts or podcasts I’ve done to get them started or point them to others in the industry I think might be able to help them. When someone inquiries about a non-wedding session, I’ll provide them with my favorite photographers in the area that do the type of work they are looking for (same if I’m booked on their wedding day). So a no doesn’t have to be short and cold, you can genuinely show you care and support them even if you can’t complete the request as they may have hoped.

Have accountability

It’s so easy to fall back into saying yes when you should be saying no. When you love what you do and amazing opportunities come up that aren’t a good fit for you but you’re tempted to say yes – have someone you can call to run it by and think through the question – if I say yes to this, what will I be consequently saying no to?

For me, Caitlyn’s my gatekeeper of the inbox. She’s up to date on my goals and schedule and what the priorities are as a business and does her best to protect my schedule. Because she’s the first one to see these opportunities, I’m less tempted to say yes to the ones that I should be saying no to.

No is not a negative thing when you can preserve what you love, your time and point people in a different direction and still help them. So, write down a list of the things you’re going to be saying no to (and consequently what things you’ll be now saying yes to).

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Before you get any further... Hi! I'm Jenna Kutcher!

A small town Minnesota photographer, podcaster, educator and puppy rescuer, my happiest days are spent behind my computer screen sharing my secrets with the world. I'm glad you're here.

I’m an expert at online marketing, a nerd when it comes to the numbers, and my obsession is teaching others how to make a living doing what they love (without it taking over their life). 

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