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How to Say “No” After You’ve Said “Yes”

You're underwater with your regular work, and you're starting to feel burned out.

Published Mon Sep 27 2021

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It happens to everyone. We agree to take on a new task, a new responsibility, or a new role. Fast forward a few weeks, and you’re bombarded with emails, and your calendar is filling up. You’re underwater with your regular work, and you’re starting to feel burned out. How do you say “no” to something after you’ve already agreed to it? First, consider the costs of bailing. If the opportunity does add value, is there another avenue you could pursue other than backing out completely? Could some of your regular work duties be taken off your plate, or could your new commitment be calibrated slightly? “No” isn’t always the answer, but if there isn’t another option, approach the issue with diplomacy and honesty. There’s no need to overexplain, but be truthful. For example, “I thought I could join your committee last month and genuinely thought I had the bandwidth to do a great job. It seems, though, that I’ve overextended myself, and I can’t continue to participate.” This will help you preserve the relationship—doubly so if you offer an alternative such as, “I can’t chair the committee, but I spoke with Susan, and she’d be a great replacement.”

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