Just Say No…Here’s How and Why

2015-02-09 11.16.56I just spoke with a client about a situation in which she couldn’t bring herself to say No. The details are unimportant. We’ve all been there. In the end, she told a “white lie” rather than admit she didn’t want to do a favor for a friend. (A favor which, in my opinion, was taking unfair advantage of my client, but that’s another story.) She asked for my advice. Here it is:

If you don’t want to do it, Just Say No. (Well… what did you think I would say? LOL!)

Here are some good ways to say No:

  1. “No.” It’s a complete sentence! This should suffice for people who know you well, and respect you, and probably already know why you’re saying No…and also for complete strangers to whom you owe nothing.
  2. “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to do that.” This is less cold (if you consider “No” to be cold), but don’t elaborate. Why not? Because the asker will just want to help you solve whatever conflict or reason you offer up as an excuse. They’ll try to help you reschedule, or reprioritize, or guilt-trip you to the point where you feel you have no choice but to say Yes to them.
  3. “Let me think about that and get back to you.” Use this as a way of buying time when you are tempted to say Yes. Even if you want to say Yes, and end up saying Yes, there’s usually no reason why you have to say it right away. Ask yourself: Is this something I want to do? Do I want to devote the time/energy/resources this will take? What will need to be rescheduled? Who else will be affected? What other “costs” are involved? What benefits? IMPORTANT NOTE: If you say this, don’t forget to actually get back to them in a timely manner. If you end up saying Yes it will be because you have decided you really want to. If you say No, they will understand that you have carefully considered it.
  4. “Thank you for thinking of me, but I can’t do it.” This shows appreciation, and still gets you out of it. There are any number of reasons why you might want to say No in addition to simply not wanting to do it, or not having the time/energy/resources to do it. Maybe you aren’t the best suited person for the job (and maybe you have someone else to suggest, which will make you a hero), or maybe it’s someone else’s responsibility (and doing it for them will only reinforce their irresponsibility). Again, don’t go into detail.

There are many other ways to say no. Some are nicer and more effective than others. You need to find a way that works for you, that you can remember to use, and that you feel good about using. It’s a skill like any other, so practice saying No!

Why is it so important to learn to say No?

Consider this quote by Dr. Phil McGraw: “We teach people how to treat us.”

If you keep saying Yes to things you don’t really want to do, people will think you DO want to do them, and they will keep asking for more! So don’t be so surprised when that keeps happening to you!

In Living and Working by Design, not by Default I wrote, “Learn how to say No. Say Yes to activities and tasks that support your goals and priorities… Keep in mind that every Yes is a No to something else.”

Every Yes is a No to something else? Like what?

Like time to work on a pet project of your own, or to exercise, or to be with your family.

Like self-esteem and not feeling taken advantage of.

Like having your life arranged the way you want it, not the way someone else wants it.

Stuff like that.

What do YOU need to say No to? How do you plan to do it?

Please share with us in the comments!

Copyright 2015-2016 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. People often make excuses (like your client did) but that can often backfire if the other person tries to work around whatever obstacle they’ve manufactured. Saying “no” is easier said than done but is usually worth it.

    • Agreed! It also takes energy to maintain a lie. (Uh oh, there’s so-and-so. What did I tell them was the reason I couldn’t do that thing?) I also think, though, that there can be degrees of forthcoming-ness that depend on how close the relationship is, and how important it is for you to maintain trust. That still doesn’t mean you can’t say no, though!

  2. Two letters, one small word–so difficult to say! I find myself saying ‘No’ often lately. WIth two young children and a business my time is stretched to the limits. And when people find out you have organizing skills, they ask you to become involved in events, good causes, and whatever they need help with. I keep ‘Every Yes is a No to something else’ in the back of my head at all times…

  3. Here is one that has worked beautifully for me – I’m a little selfish about that. This first came up when on when someone I really did not like asked to come with me on a trip to visit a mutual friend. I knew she didn’t drive, I know it would be difficult for her to get a ride with someone else, and I knew she loved our friend. But this was someone who had been unpleasant to me for years. I felt determined but selfish and so that’s what I told her.

    “I’m a little selfish about this.” Then fill in the blank. You’ve already said you were selfish. What can they say?

    Of course, you must be generous and helpful whenever you can or you will be selfish

    • I’m glad you found something that worked for you! I think it’s best suited for personal situations than for professional situations.

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