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How to say no!

Why is such a little word so hard to say?
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If you want to achieve your goals at work (and more broadly in life), you need to master one short, powerful word – something that is often easier said than done. I’m talking about ‘no’.

Believe me, I get it. Saying no can be painful; not only do we feel like we’re letting someone down, but we also know what it’s like to be on the receiving end. But at the end of the day, you can’t be everything for everyone, and there are plenty of situations in life when it’s better for all parties to throw down that ‘no’, whether because you can’t give a person or task the attention they or it deserves, or it’s simply too great a burden on your time.

With that in mind, consider these points next time you’re dithering over a yes or no situation:

  1. If you’re in a leadership role, managing external clients or have children, you know there are times that you need to say no.
  2. Your ability to consciously choose what you say yes and no to is a reflection of your values and emotional intelligence.
  3. For everything you say yes to, you are saying no to something else.
  4. When you want to say no, ask yourself: ‘What is the opportunity if I say yes to this?’
  5. Get clear about what type of activities and people you need to say no to.
  6. Having sentences, phrases and strategies for saying no is a skill (and it does get easier).
  7. People who are anxious about saying no (people pleasers) actually dilute themselves and their brand, and often spend time on activities and in conversations that really have no future benefit (or worse still, have a consequence).
  8. Remember: we respect people who value their own time and that of others. So use strong, clear language when turning someone down.
  9. In a world with so much fast-paced change and demands for our time, we are inspired by people who know where they want to invest their time.
  10. Ultimately, people associate ‘no’ with a rejection. And it’s often seen as confrontational or a trigger for conflict or resentment. Even though you’re saying ‘no’ to a request, you can still make a person feel valued, using phrases like ‘I have to say no to collaborating with you on this, but I really appreciate how committed you are to the project and I think you’re doing a great job.’
  11. Healthy teams and businesses have tension and robust discussions. Saying no should be a great provoker to question, challenge and understand.

So, once you’ve mustered the courage to finally start saying no, keep the following tips in mind.


  • use too many words when you’re saying no, because you will dilute yourself
  • feel you need to apologise when you say no, because your reasons might be really valid
  • buy time – otherwise they’ll be back to ask you again and you’ll be repeating the same conversation (I’ll come back to you next week)
  • be aggressive.


  • pick your battles
  • avoid the word ‘no’ if you feel that’s too confrontational. Instead, try saying 'that won’t work for me’ and explain why in two or three sentences
  • ask questions: ‘How does me saying no impact you?’
  • manage your tone, pace and language. Deliver your ‘no’ in the right place, at the right time and in a way that the other person feels you did consider the question
  • say no to the request, not the person
  • know your values and priorities.

Believe it or not, there are a plethora of resources out there delivering instruction for how to say no. Get started with these practical, no-inspiring TED Talks:

- The Coach Place Global team.

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