Learn to say NO

The most powerful word is one that most people find difficult to say. Yet when we know how to use it correctly, it has the power to profoundly transform our lives. That word is NO. …

If you are like me then you will recall when you have unwillingly said:

“YES, sure no problem” when asked by your boss if you could take on this one extra task
YES, I would love to” when asked by your friend if you would join her for lunch on Saturday
“YES, I can do that” when asked to join a committee that joins every Thursday evening for an hour
“Yes, I am available” when asked if you would like to be a part of a new learning & development initiative

So, why did we say “YES” so many times when what we really wanted to say was “NO NO NO NO”?

This was one of my main challenges for so many years.  Here are the top 8 reasons “YES” would slip out of my mouth when I should have said “NO” ….. I suspect you will relate:

  1. At first, I didn’t even see the harm in saying YES. After all, I could make time for that one extra task and do whatever I wanted to get done later, in the evening or on my own time
  2. I felt guilty….. I had not made time for my friend for so long, I couldn’t back out of this commitment now
  3. I felt wanted and important. If I am asked to join a committee, they must seem my presence and input as useful and valuable
  4. I did not want to miss a single opportunity that came my way in case it was the next big thing
  5. I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings or disappoint them
  6. It was hard to say NO when put on the spot by a surprise request, especially if the reason for NO was personal
  7. I sometimes felt like I have said NO so often, I can’t say NO again. I will seem uninterested or plain rude
  8. I believed I had no option other than to either say YES or NO. I am a positive person so YES is more positive

With time, I realized that every time I was saying YES to something, I was in actual fact saying NO to something else.  Mostly time I had scheduled for things important to ME like time with my family, time to focus on my own priorities, time to relax or exercise, time to plan and reflect etc……

BE TRUE TO YOURSELFYou will feel much less guilty saying “no” when we have a firm grasp on our priorities and convictions.

How committed are you to spending quality time every Saturday afternoon with your family?  Then you need to say NO when asked to join the committee that meets every Saturday afternoon.  Especially since you’re already gone Tuesday evenings for something else, and you often have to work late on Sundays and Thursdays.

How committed are you to the promises you made to yourself?  To that TO DO list you wrote up this morning?  Then you need to say NO to requests you want to, and can, avoid that will totally disrupt your schedule.

Here is my tried-and-tested 6 step technique to a saying a powerful “NO”:


You need to carefully choose the few things you will actually say YES to.  In fact, all major studies of the habits of highly successful people show that they say NO much more than they say YES.

Really listen to the request being made of you, ask probing questions and reflect before you answer a quick YES or NO.  Is it something you would like to do but just not now.  Is it something you want to make the time for.  Is it because you and only you can do what is being requested and you want to help.  Is it because you are reliable so you always get the extra load, but it adds nothing to you at all.  Is it something that nobody else wants to do.  Are you being asked to offer your services for free when you would really should get paid for them?

Make up your mind about what you want to do before you give a YES or a NO.  This will empower you feel good about your decision and the reasoning behind it.  You will also follow through with it without regrets.


It works wonders when you start your response with phrases such as “Thank you for thinking of me”, or “I appreciate your trust” or “I completely understand what you are asking of me”.


If you know what your answer is going to be, give it when you’re asked.  Don’t promise to try hard to make it or that you will think about it and get back to them just to put off saying “NO.”  It makes it harder for you to say NO later, all you are really doing is delaying what you can do now till later.  And the worse thing is that it makes you seem indecisive, and raises false hope for the other person that you will really try hard and find a way.


There are so many tips to give here, so here are a few top ones:

Keep your response as short as possible, and do not keep apologizing unnecessarily or making excuses for your NO.  And certainly don’t make up a reason (i.e. lie).  You have the right to make choices that are best for you, especially when you are respected and credible.

Say the words you really mean.  I will never forget the time I apologized from a monthly executive meeting I knew I could skip to prepare for my son’s birthday party.  I said to the CEO apologetically “I have to prepare for my son’s birthday party”.  His response to me was “HAVE or WANT?”, and I suddenly realized I didn’t have to, I wanted to!  I suddenly did not feel apologetic or sorry, I KNEW I was doing the right thing !

Don’t say things that send mixed messages or give unnecessary hope like, “I better not, but I want to be helpful.”


It is so much more powerful to say:

“I can do this report for you by Thursday next week” instead “I just can’t take on this extra report now”

“I would love to meet you, if my schedule was not already booked this week” instead of “I am so pressed for time, I can’t do it”

“I am sure if you ask, you will find someone else who can work this weekend” instead of “I will try and find someone who will be able to work this weekend”


Don’t expect that you will get off the hook easily every time.  People will persist and keep asking and insisting.  If you really mean NO, then make sure you do not give in to pressure.

The easiest ways to do this are to just smile, and not respond to the pressure, change the subject, excuse yourself “I really have to go now” or say “This really is my final answer”.

Remember to SMILE and REMAIN CALM !

The real summary of a resentful life is a life that failed to balance YES and NO.  

Yes!  A life that failed to recognize when to courageously say NO and when to confidently say YES!

Master the art of a giving a powerful NO today, and reclaim your time and life!

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