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Saying ‘No’ is a Key Part of the New Retirement Skill Set

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by Joe Casey

4 Steps to Say No Gracefully, but Firmly

It’s said that nature abhors a vacuum. You can see that principle at work with the schedules of new retirees. Free space will be filled fast. Sometimes you can become busy with commitments that may not be the right ones for you.

One of the surprises new retirees report is that they quickly become much busier than they expected – or wanted – to be. Suddenly, they find themselves as busy as they were before, just with a different mix of activities, but driven too much by other people’s priorities rather than theirs. Sort of like work all over again, just without the paycheck.

It Seems Harder to Say No

It’s harder to say No when you’ve just retired, because you now have all this time – and your ‘go to’ excuses are now gone. But the bill for saying Yes too soon shows up later.

While being active in retirement is very important, becoming overcommitted creates problems:

  • Your time gets taken up on things that aren’t aligned with how you ideally want to invest your time
  • It limits your ability to respond to new opportunities that arise – the things you really want to do
  • New obligations become created and take away from the sense of freedom and flexibility that you worked so hard to have in retirement

Here are a few recommendations, learned the hard way, on how to say No gracefully and protect your time for your highest priorities:

Four Steps to Say No Gracefully

  1. Say Thank You

Express your genuine appreciation for being asked.

Thank you. It’s a real honor to be asked to be a part of this.”

  1. Say No Clearly and Early – Don’t Procrastinate

You already know that putting it off won’t make it any easier. In fact, it will make it harder. It’s always tempting to defer and say, ‘Maybe later’. If you sincerely will be interested in the activity later, that’s a fine response. If not, don’t do it. Stick with No. (They will come back and you’ll have to go through this all over again.)

  1. Give a Concise Reason

Avoid feeling like you must give a long explanation. Keep it short. The longer your story, the more likely holes can be punched in it.

“I’d really love to, but I’ve committed to my time to X, Y and Z right now.”

  1. Offer an Alternative

This is perhaps the most important step. Provide other options that may be helpful to the person. They’re usually just focused on solving their need and it’s amazing how quickly they’ll move on when you give them a good alternative to pursue.

“Have you thought about Susan, she’d be great for this.”

(For some requests, keep a list of your enemies close at hand. Just kidding).

These ideas are common sense, but they’re not common practice. When you’re newly retired, be selective in what you choose to commit your time to. As the late Stephen Covey advised, every time you say No to a lesser priority, you create space to say Yes to something more important.


Joe Casey is a former senior HR executive whos in his second career as an executive coach and retirement coach.

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