Thank you, Brené Brown, for giving me the best rejection I’ve ever received, and in turn, teaching me how to say no gracefully!
Seriously though, being told no, or often worse, saying no, can be hard to stomach. Instead of saying or handling the rejection, we often avoid, do things we don’t want to do, or feel resentment.
Knowing this, why do we perpetuate this unhealthy behavior? For many of us, it’s because of the fear we have in regards to what other people will think.
When a request comes our way to which we want to say no but don’t, two things may happen. 1. We chip away at our own integrity by subliminally telling ourselves that our own priorities don’t matter. 2. We find ourselves being inauthentic by replying with a ‘Yes, I’d love to!’, or even a begrudging, ‘Sure!’ If your gut is telling you to say no, but you’re too afraid to look bad, burn a bridge, or be unliked, you don’t; you fake it, spending valuable time on something to which your heart is not committed.
Yet, by our actions, we teach people how to treat us. By being afraid to stand up to our boundaries, inadvertently we teach people that we’re pushovers and that they can disrespect our time. Or, because we know this pattern in ourselves, we translate it to assume that others will feel similarly when we place a request on their time, so we refrain from asking at all.
Not convinced? See what The Mayo Clinic has to say about the importance of saying no to reduce stress and live a happier life.
I recently got over the fear of reaching out to a well-known person after hearing Brené Brown on an interview with Marie Forleo. She made a point about the state of negativity in our world right now and shared, “It really is going to take a million acts of kindness and consciousness to change this…”
It resonated with me as I’ve launched a social movement called #GiveItForward to encourage 1,000,000 people to give intentionally in some way, to one person each day, with no strings attached.
So, I wrote a note via Brené’s website contact page, simply believing that if I didn’t try to reach out, I’d absolutely not hear from her. I decided that trying was a better option than staying silent.
Much to my surprise, within 48 hours of writing, I received the following email reply from Teresa, a member of her team, which was hands-down the most graceful way of telling me no I’ve ever received.
Thanks so much for connecting. It is great to hear you have enjoyed Brené’s latest interview with Marie Forleo. We appreciate you sharing about the social movement #GiveItForward. In order to honor her family, research, and teaching commitments, Brené is unable to take on any additional commitments or collaborations at this time. We wish you wholehearted success on your work.
Thanks again for reaching out.
Teresa – Brené Brown Team
Here’s what we can dissect and learn about crafting a similarly considerate rejection (even when it feels scary or unpleasant):
1. A reply was offered within a respectful timeframe.
I don’t like to ignore correspondences, especially when they come from a place of curiosity, collaboration, or a compliment. Do your best to reply within 48 hours to the requests that come your way which are easy to ignore, rather than pretend they were never received. Avoiding conflict isn’t the best way to solidify and respect your boundaries.
This message came from Teresa, a member of Brené Brown’s team. It created a layer between us, protecting Brené both from having to reply to every inquiry, as well as allowing for a gatekeeper to share her message. Consider having your assistant, administrator, or an intern reply to these emails and give them a general template to use, as long as you trust that they’ll humanize and personalize it.
3. It’s personalized.
The reply reflects clearly that the entire message is not a canned response, but instead, addresses the content of my email. This results in my feeling respected, and not brushed off.
4. It’s in alignment with Brené’s brand.
This message is on brand with the teachings and image we know of Brené from her books, TED talks, and teachings. As someone who stands for vulnerability, it’s clear that she is sharing a bit of herself via her teammate, in this context, as it pertains to how she prioritizes her time: “In order to honor her family, research, and teaching commitments…”.
5. She knows her priorities.
When you are clear on where your ‘yes’ is, meaning where you say yes to spending your time, everything else is a no. Brené is clear that for her, those are her family, research, and teaching.
6. The word ‘no’ is never used explicitly.
Her no is clear, but the word itself is never used. She states, “Brené is unable to take on any additional commitments or collaborations at this time.” This is a softer way of saying no, which comes directly after being told about her current priorities. Consider a way to say no that feels authentic for you, without having to say it directly if you don’t want to, or feel it sounds harsh within the context.
7. It’s thoughtful and in a friendly tone.
There is a kind and friendly spirit that leaves me, the recipient, feeling that although we’ve not connected, we part respectfully. Teresa says, “We wish you wholehearted success on your work” which is not simply Brené’s wish, but hers, as well. Treat people as people, not just as bots on the other side of a message.
8. The door isn’t closed forever.
“Thanks again for reaching out,” leaves me encouraged that my message didn’t fall on deaf ears, and the door isn’t shut forever, because I didn’t feel scorned or completely shut down.
9. It’s concise.
There’s no need to meander around the point. The author said exactly what she needed to say to get the point across, while also leaving me feeling respected and heard. There is no need to take more time than is necessary. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
There’s much to learn and model from saying no, thanks to Teresa and Brené’s email. Take some time to determine where you want to invest your time and energy, and get comfortable saying no to the things that don’t align with those, or don’t excite you. When you receive a no from someone, flip the potential sting or insult of that to sending her gratitude and praise for standing strong to uphold her values, and give you a healthy reminder to do so, too.
This article recently appeared on Forbes.