The Power of Saying “No” Without Guilt

It wasn’t surprising to me that 41 percent of respondents to PINK’s survey question: What would make a huge difference to improve your work/life in 2024, answered: “Getting better at saying ‘No.’”

Many working women especially, find it difficult to say no to an invitation, opportunity, or request, in spite of our ever-growing responsibilities and full schedules.

Just as with many habits, the more we say “no”, the easier it is to say “no.” As a longtime business consultant and recruiter, I’ve learned a few pearls of wisdom:

Time, unlike money, cannot be saved up easily or moved about. If you have five minutes to spare right now, for example, you cannot put them in your pocket to use later on.

Saying “yes” to one thing means you’re saying “no” to something (everything) else (that you’ll no longer have time for, ever) that may be
more important or enjoyable to you than what you just said yes to.

How to Say “No”: 10 Tips to Help You Master the Delicate Skill of Saying “No.”

1. Be polite. Listen to the full request before answering, “No”, or say, “Let me think about it.”

2. You may opt to decline an invitation in person to avoid miscommunication.

3. Offer options. For example, if a co-worker asks you to help out on a big project, you may not have time, but you might know someone
else who can assist. Or, you might say, “I’d love to help you out, but my boss needs this by 4pm, and if I stop now, I’ll never make her

4. Consider the bigger picture. You might feel bad temporarily, but if you say “yes” and are unable to follow through, you’ll likely regret it
more later.

5. Just say “No.” And mean it. (“I’m sorry, but no”, or “I’d love to, but I can’t.”)

6. Saying “No” with a reason. (“No, I have a prior commitment then.”)

7. Saying “No” with a stronger reason. (“No, I have an appointment with my doctor, therapist, attorney, daughter’s teacher.”)

8. Say “No” for their own good. (“No, I couldn’t give you the quality or results you would want.”)

9. Say “No” for your own good. (“No, that’s not on my list of priorities”, or “My free time is already overcommitted”, or “As a family, we have made the decision to be home together for dinner every evening.”).

10. Instead of just saying “no”, say “yes” to something else instead. (“No I can’t do that, but I am willing to do some smaller commitment

Remember, excuses invite more discussion, rebuttal and possibly even argument and/or false hope.

Do you say “yes” for any of these reasons?

  • You don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.
  • You don’t want to explain why you want to say no.
  • You don’t want to say sometime interpreted as negative.
  • You feel obligated to spend time with the person because you haven’t seen her or him in months.
  • The other person is important to you.
  • You would like to oblige, but the timing doesn’t work.

It’s worthwhile to say, “No” when you mean no because it benefits other people. The most considerate and thoughtful thing we can do for others is to spend time with them because we want to, not because we feel sorry for them or obligated. That isn’t thoughtful and the message is you don’t think they have enough personal strength to manage without you.

Additional ways to say “No” when it’s a sensitive topic:

If a friend asks to borrow money, you can say, “I wish I could, but as a rule, I don’t lend money to friends.”

If you have been asked to head the charity fundraiser again, say, “I know I’m going to disappoint you, but I’ve decided not to volunteer this year.”

If a co-worker asks you to pitch in on a birthday gift for someone you really don’t know say, “I don’t really know John. I think I’ll just wish him a happy birthday in person.”

If your boss offers you a promotion you don’t want it, say, “I’m flattered that you want me, but for personal reasons I’m not in a position where I can take this on. Perhaps in a year from now things will be different. Can we talk again if my circumstances change?”

If your boss asks you to take on yet another project, you might say, “Wow, that’s an interesting project. I’m really busy with the ABC assignment right now, so let me know if you want me to re-prioritize.”

If a customer wants to skip an important part of your process, say “I know you’d like to skip the initial consultation, but we’ve found it’s the best way to ensure a quality job on our part, and we’re not willing to compromise our process. It wouldn’t serve you or us.”

If a staff member is prodding you to move their project forward, provide some background, “I know you want to move this along, but I can’t review your status report until after the board meeting next week.”

What if “Yes” slipped out before you could catch yourself?

If you didn’t get it right the first time and “yes” tumbled out before you could catch yourself, there are ways to back out gracefully.

1. Correct your mistake sooner rather than later otherwise it may be harder to replace you.

2. Admit you messed up when you said “Yes.” Acknowledge any disappointment, but don’t wallow in it. You can say, “I know this
complicates things for you, and I apologize for that.” Or, “I didn’t realize the timing conflicts with a previous commitment.”

3. Don’t feel obligated to elaborate. The less you say, the better. Any excuse invites scrutiny, more discussion.

4. Offer to help find a solution or a person to take your place. It’s a nice thing to do.

6 Phrases To Get Out of Something You Don’t Want To Do:

  • I don’t think I’m the right person for this job/project
  • I have a lot on my plate right now
  • I’m not comfortable with that
  • I can’t do it right now
  • I don’t want to. Or, No thank you, I’m not interested
  • Doing this would require me to change priorities

How to decide when to say Yes:

Take author Derek Sivers’ approach. Everything is either a “Hell Yeah” or a “No!” If your immediate gut reaction on something you’re asked isn’t “Hell Yeah”, don’t spend any more time deliberating.

In closing, when PINK CEO Cynthia Good asked if I would share this content with the PINK community, it was most definitely a Hell Yeah, knowing readers would find value in the content; and get comfortable employing certain responses. And, if you have strategies not mentioned here that work for you, please share them with us! In sharing great ideas with one another, we all benefit. (Reach out to Cynthia at Cgood@LittlePinkBook.Com)

“No is a complete sentence. We can simply smile and say ‘No.’ We don’t have to explain ourselves.”

—Susan Gregg, Author By Teresa Riccobuono

Teresa Riccobuono is a business consultant and recruiter in the financial services industry. She is also a Professional Organizer, helping individuals and business owners improve their surroundings for greater efficiency and enjoyment. You can learn more about her and her services at SimplyOrganized.com.

Erin Baule

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Erin Baule

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