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The Empowering Art of Saying No

Many people choose to say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ even when they don’t mean it. Have you ever wondered why? Even though this two-letter word is so simple and easy to use in a conversation, the majority of people hate using it when they are being asked to do something and as such, avoid it like the plague. But when they do find the courage to use it, they often feel the need to make excuses – and most of the time, terrible ones.

But it’s important to understand that it’s okay to say no from time to time. It helps you stick to the original plans you made for the day and allows you to do the things that only you want to do while avoiding the stress caused by taking on additional responsibilities.

See Also: How to Avoid Saying Yes to Coming to Work When Called Out of Hours

In some cases, your inability to say ‘no’ might be what’s holding you back from progressing. But, a recent study from SIOP showed that saying no to requests is more difficult for women and those who do often experience worse performance evaluations and get fewer opportunities for promotion. So what can you do to increase your chances for career development and avoid potential misunderstandings or hurting someone else’s feelings?

Why is it so Hard?

Say no

The reason saying ‘no’ is so damn difficult is really complex when you analyse it. But the real issue is reflected by the fear of disappointing others, making them angry or feeling rejected. That’s because it’s difficult to refuse candy to a child or admitting to your boss that you can’t do what he asks you to do. I mean how can you witness all of that disappointment in their eyes? Likewise, you don’t want to bail on a night out because you might be worried your friends won’t ever ask or even speak to you again.

These fears come from the assumptions we hold on what the word ‘no’ means. In this TEDx, Kenny Nguyen refers to the act of saying ‘no’ as being associated with denial and rejection. Since you know these two feelings are pretty difficult to take in, you don’t want to make others go through it either. However, as he suggests, saying ‘no’ is another form of power. It’s a different kind of art, a trick that you can use to ‘grow’. But in order to be able to do that, you first need to understand when and why you should say it.

By now I’m sure you can see that while being the ‘all-doer’ can help you make some friends; it’s also possible that is slowing you down. While saying ‘yes’ might help you learn and try more stuff, these aren’t necessarily what you really truly need. Saying ‘no’, however, allows you to invest in yourself and embrace the future opportunities for development by sacrificing the ‘now’.

Saying No in the Workplace

While I can relate to the struggles of saying no, sometimes that’s just what you need to do, even at work. Being efficient in the workplace is all about setting boundaries, and saying ‘no’ is an essential part of this as well as achieving the right work-life balance. This way you can ensure your personal life doesn’t interfere with your work and vice versa. But what happens when you need to say no to your boss?

When your boss comes to you with a problem that you can’t deal with due to other responsibilities, you can still say no without the fear of losing your job. If you are afraid refusing a task would make you sound rude, arrogant, guilty, or selfish, don’t. Just make sure you do it the right way.

Brandon Smith, The Workplace Therapist, introduces the perfect formula for saying no the right way. As he says, the opening 20% of the conversation should be the ‘no’ part followed by a brief accompaniment of the ‘why’, while the remaining % of the conversation should include alternative solutions to help your boss solve the problem without you.
Here’s an example:

Boss: Joss this is urgent. Will you be able to schedule and attend a meeting with a certain important client this week?

Joss: No, I am sorry. I won’t be able to do it as I am flying to Germany on Thursday and won’t be back until the end of the month. However, I could get it sorted out when I return, or perhaps Mark could do it? Have you considered him? If this is something that needs to be done soon, this might be a possible solution…

This example shows how your response can effectively demonstrate your willingness to help even when saying ‘no’. Providing suggestions on how to circumvent the problem is effective and more likely to be respected by your boss.

dissapointed boss

But saying ‘no’ isn’t intended just for your boss. When your colleagues ask you to do something for them, you don’t have to prove that you are the do-it-all guy and refusing them the right way will show them that you value of your time. Obviously you are super busy with your current projects, so before you say no to a task, you need to identify the company’s priorities. You don’t want to get too distracted with low payoff activities, so first you need to differentiate which ones require your immediate attention.

How to Say It

In order to say no and really mean it, you first need to be clear with yourself. Do you really want to do it? Get on board! But if you aren’t 100 percent sure, it’s best that you don’t rush in and end up saying yes.

Here are some effective ways to say ‘no’:

Take Your Time

Instead of simply saying no, try hearing the other person out and give them alternatives. Take as much time as you need to understand what they are asking from you and decide whether you are up for it or not. Doing so will show that you realise the importance of getting the task completed, that you are empathetic towards the other person who’s sharing his concerns and that you have taken the chance to think about it.

Give a brief explanation

Refusing someone doesn’t mean that you need to explain yourself. But, you might want to tell them why you can’t carry out the task. You can’t just expect others to like you when you are continually saying no and walking away right? Next time this happens, avoid lengthy explanations and just tell them straight out that you can’t make it to avoid appearing unsure of yourself.


When someone makes a request but you can’t help them because you’ve already made plans, you could still offer to do so on a different date or time. That might work well if it’s been made at short notice since you have the flexibility of rescheduling.

See Also: 10 Things You Don’t Owe Anyone Even When You Think You Do

If you want to succeed in life and the workplace, sometimes you just have to say ‘no’. That’s it; you don’t have any other choice, even if that means that you need to set your own priorities. All of the actions you take or don’t take inevitably contribute to making sure you are developing professionally.  

So practice saying no more often and see how it changes your life. Whatever you do, hold your ground and do what’s best for you and your team.

Do you find it difficult to say ‘no’ to others? What is your own coping strategy? Let me know in the comments section below…

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