Most of us don’t like saying “no” when others make requests of us. To build credibility and trust with our teams at work and our friends and family at home, we know it’s important to raise our hands and say yes. We want to be seen as helpful, responsive and reliable so we offer yeses to many different places and people. Soon we find ourselves strapped for time and overwhelmed by our commitments. It becomes time to say No.

While “no” is often treated as a four-letter word, being able to use it effectively is crucial to having a life you’re in control of versus a life that’s in control of you.

You would be shocked—or maybe you wouldn’t– by the number of coaching clients I’ve had who’ve asked me to coach them on how to effectively say “no.” They know they need to do it, but the best way in which to eludes them. Here is what I walk them through.

The first step in properly saying No is to identify for yourself what you want to say yes to.

You’ve heard the #1 marketing rule is “you can’t be all things to all people.” So you must ask yourself what things do you want to be and to whom?  In your work and home life, you must consider what tasks you must do as well as the ones that bring you joy and fulfillment. Then you have to determine who you want your “customers” to be. Your boss? Your spouse? Your kids? Your church? The PTA? The possibilities are endless, but you must choose. Once you’ve chosen, your goal is to focus on those asks that lie within your scope and avoid “scope creep”— adding those tasks that theoretically you could do, but in reality are outside the realm of what you do best or the people you want to serve.

You must also recognize that your scope will change over time and in different situations. For example, maybe you have a child that is graduating or you’re training for a marathon. Maybe you’ve just taken a promotion. Each of these situations presents a unique set of priorities. If your kid is heading off to school in the fall, you may say no to more after-work client obligations. If you’re a new hire, you might be saying no to volunteer activities for a while. The key is to periodically assess what your priorities are. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to say NO.

The second step in saying no occurs when you say it.

During that conversation, focus twenty per cent on the “no” and the remainder on possible solutions to achieving a desirable outcome. Utilize a solution mindset. What happens when you “just say no,” is that you inadvertently set up a negotiation — if the requester can overcome your rationale, their request trumps yours and you become stuck. Instead, take initiative to author a counteroffer. Even though you’ve denied the ask, you’ll continue to be someone who is known as helpful at achieving goals and working as a team player to reach success.

What does it look like? Say your boss comes to you and says “I told ABC Client that we would have their project completed on Monday rather than Wednesday. I need you to make that happen. Can you do it?” You’ve been working on this project for weeks along with several others and you know your team is at its max. Unless you all work serious overtime, this would be impossible. Your job in responding is to explain the constraints and then provide options. You might reply with “We’ve been working at capacity for days now. We can make the Monday deadline for ABC, but it means we’ll have to tell Client DEF they have to wait — are you comfortable doing that? If not, I could hire temporary staff to help complete both projects by the deadlines.” In this response, the first statement was a no, but it was followed up with two solutions. Essentially, you’ve put the ball in the requester’s court; you’ve given them choice, but managed the options in order to protect your own priorities.

The take away?

Stop viewing “no” as a bad word. Instead, consider the power you exercise when you identify for yourself and others where your priorities lie and then you get creative about finding solutions that work for your personal and professional life. You’ll learn to protect your time and manage the expectations of those around you like a champ. Sounds like a win to me.