Yes, it is a skill. For some of us it is one hardest to learn.
Part of the culture of business today is the obsession with growth and scale at all cost, which turn saying ‘no’ to opportunities as a bad thing. So much so that we are told to frame it as ‘not now’ rather than ‘no’.
This is driven by fear, scarcity, and finite thinking; the notion that opportunities will somehow stop appearing if we say ‘no’ today. It is compounded by the thinking that because we put in effort and time to get us to a point where we were given an opportunity that therefore we can not say ‘no’.
If we went for a hike with the intent of getting to the top a specific hill and came to a chasm that has a bridge across it. The bridge is falling apart and will collapse under our weight. Would we decide we must cross the bridge because we had hiked up this far already? We wouldn’t do this; we’d ignore sunk costs. We’d likely be disappointed and look around for other options, but we wouldn’t risk crossing the bridge.
Saying no is actually about a wise allocation of resources, priority and focus. It can be a great opportunity, can even fit within the criteria we have, but saying no is an option, it is possible.
Underlying our fear of saying ‘no’ is often insight about ourselves – I am not good enough, I am insufficient, I am a failure; or I will disappoint the other, let them down, etc. Saying yes makes me feel significant, important in the moment; I gloss over the fact it makes me lose sleep, increases stress and anxiety, which in turns impacts my relationship with my colleagues and family, and so on.
Perhaps we need to practice saying ‘no, thank you’. Kindly, even generously, but still saying no.