Do you ever feel guilty about letting people down? This has come up a lot in my practice recently. Several people have been wrestling with how to stay on track with their goals without letting others down.
Each person knew they should decline what was on offer because it simply didn’t fit with their current needs or long-term vision, yet they felt awkward and guilty about it.
Mona* had applied for a new job and been for an interview. The company loved her, so when—after much soul-searching and worrying that she’d be letting them down—she declined the role, they adjusted their offer to accommodate her needs better. This left her feeling even worse and more confused as it still wasn’t right for her. Fundamentally, it’s not right for her, so she should thank them for their time, politely decline and move on, right?
Louise* had enquired about a service that she thought would help her with a business problem. Following a couple of calls and a meeting, she decided that the service wouldn’t meet her current needs. Fundamentally, it’s not right for her, so she should thank them for their time, politely decline and move on, right?
You can see the pattern. It seems simple (and it is!), but most of us would rather avoid any conversations that mean saying no. Turning something down when we’ve actively enquired about it can feel rude and disrespectful—and can stir up nagging feelings of guilt.
This can surface in other areas of our life, when we simply agree to too much: taking on yet another project at work / agreeing to arrange a friend’s birthday party / offering to host Christmas (when you know you shouldn’t because your extension will never be finished in time and it’ll be toooooo stressful)…
Yes, you might disappoint people. Yes, it’ll probably feel awkward. But going through life trying please everyone else isn’t much of a life.
If you know you have a tendency to avoid saying no because you don’t want to disappoint people, acknowledge that. If you recognise that you’re trying to avoid that awkward feeling, acknowledge that.
Write down all the uncomfortable feelings that might arise (e.g. guilt, pressure, heaviness) if you decline this offer. Also notice if any pleasant feelings come up and acknowledge those, too (e.g. relief, freedom, lightness).
Tune in to what’s right for you about this decision to say no. Focus on how you’re following your own path, being clear about your goals and vision, and staying true to your ultimate outcomes. Write down all the good that will come from your declining.
If you decide you’re going to decline, remember you’re declining the offer not the person. This isn’t a rejection of them. Stay centred.
Finally, consider looking at things from a different perspective: politely declining something can be good for the person on the receiving end. They might learn that their offering needs tweaking, or you might be making way for someone who is the right fit—a better candidate for that job just round the corner, or a better customer about to walk through the door.
Learning to say no can be for the highest good of all involved.
*names have been changed