The Art of Saying No


By Jae-Ha Kim
January 1, 2017

TL;DR: I don’t want to do your work for you.

I had a conversation the other day with a good friend. I was really annoyed and felt used by someone, who I pointed out had done this before without so much as a simple thank you for my efforts. We had a discussion about this, how it’s healthy to say no and how to let go of bad feelings towards good people (who may or may not know how to express gratitude).

I like to say that people should do good things just for the sake of doing good things and not for the thank you afterwards. But, I will also admit that I am internally furious when I have done a big favor for someone and don’t receive so much as a verbal acknowledgment for my time and effort.

Is that a flaw of mine? Maybe. But maybe we should also say no to people who ask us to do more than we have time for and take advantage of the fact that we most likely won’t say no to them.

Actually, you may have a spine and say no just fine. I’m talking about me. So, let’s change all that we to I.

When I wrote my “Friends” book, my editor moved up my deadline several times, because the publishing house wanted to release my book before a competitor released theirs. Even though it would have benefited me to have the first book out, they offered me more money with each deadline change as an incentive, because they knew they were asking me to work at a quicker pace than the norm.

Granted, they didn’t do this out of goodwill. I had a kickass agent who negotiated it. (This same publishing house tried to screw me over royally on another project, when said agent was no longer representing me.) It worked. I wanted to have the first “Friends” book out. I wanted to make extra money. It was worth my time to sleep less and write more to meet those earlier deadlines. It was something I wanted to do.

?Do you know what I don’t want to do?

Look over anything that will only take me a minute. Though this may not be the intent at the time, those four italicized words are almost always code for: Write my resume, write my essay, write my child’s homework, write my child’s college admission papers, proofread my screenplay, write my book proposal, edit my book, edit anything I’ve ever written, write my biography… The list goes on; and the requests have been getting more frequent as friends of friends are asking me for favors.

Can you imagine asking a hair stylist friend to cut your hair (for free), because it’ll only take a minute; or your teacher friend to tutor your child (for free), because it won’t be much work at all; or your bartender friend to man the bar at your daughter’s wedding (for free), because you know he’d want to be there anyways; or your auto mechanic friend to tune up your car (for free), because he’s so good at what he does; or your doctor friend to give you a physical (for free), because you’ve been friends forever.

People have used all those becauses on me, as they asked me to do favors for them. And it’s always quickly and when they’re panicking, because they procrastinated for months and expect me to come to the rescue immediately.

Except for one person — who I hadn’t had contact with for years when he popped out of the woodwork to ask for a “small favor” — I have said yes to every single request, regardless of whether I had my own work deadlines or just. didn’t. want. to. do. it. I have moved my schedule around to accommodate other people’s requests for (sometimes) outrageous favors.

I suppose you could say that I should just appreciate knowing that I helped people. Of course. That is why I helped.

I may have even received a thank you from the occasional person, but I was also yelled at for not getting material to people fast enough (trust me: a two-hour turnaround on the day that you request a freebie is fast enough); I have been blamed for children not getting into the university of their choice (I’m pretty sure they did that on their own); I have been called selfish for turning that one person down (that one didn’t bother me at all, because he was a shithead); I was questioned about my use of grammar by one person, who told me that her secretary said that I was wrong (I wasn’t); I’ve been nagged at by a “friend” who wanted me to write her a job referral RIGHT NOW (believe it or not, it’s difficult for me to LIE about what a good employee someone is).

Would I have been happier charging people for this work? No, because this isn’t the type of work that I choose to do to make my living. If you want me to write about pop culture for a magazine, I will accept (for the appropriate payment). If you want someone to help your kid get into Harvard, do not ask me to look over anything. Hire a professional who specializes in this and who really wants your business (and it is a business — you will have to pay them). You don’t want an overtired, overworked and resentful me saying, “Okay,” because I don’t want to hurt your feelings.

Seriously. You get what you pay for.

Happy New Year. Truly.

©JAE-HA KIM |All Rights Reserved

Comments (1)

  1. Melody says:

    I have a difficult time saying no to friends and family, who don’t get my hints. I think I will just forward them this article. For the record, I wouldn’t mind doing projects for them if they offered to pay or showed some sign of appreciation. But they don’t think my job is “real” and therefore I should be happy to help them. Thank you, Jae! Happy new year!

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