3 Steps and Tips to Say: No

Time Management
Knowledge Center


Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

3 Steps and Tips to Say: No

As a professional you're actively managing your time and the tasks and goals you work on. This does mean that at some point you will have to say "No" to requests made upon you by other people. You probably already have more tasks than you can perform...

Unfortunately for many people, saying no is hard. They should learn to say goodbye to being a people pleaser and learn how to confidently say no to someone without feeling bad about it. Luckliy, saying "No" is a skill which you can learn and practice. Here are 3 straightforward steps for saying "No" in approximate order:
  • STEP 1. AVOID AN IMPULSIVE REACTION. Buy some time and first do a quick Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) of the task you are asked to perform, considering your goals and values. That includes the opportunity cost (the cost of not doing the task). Whether you actually like the task, or the person making the request, should not dominate your choice.
  • STEP 2. KEEP IT SHORT. Be firm when you express the "No", but give a short explanation and be courteous to the person making the request. Don't offer weak excuses or beat around the bush. And don't fall into the trap of wanting to be “nice” and avoid hurting other people’s feelings. Remember you are saying no to the request, not to the person. If the person who is asking you to perform the task is your manager, it makes sense to give a more comprehensive explanation, and be more open for discussion. You might share the main points of your CBA with him/her and ask for his/her opinion.
  • STEP 3. OPTIONALLY you can offer some (limited) help or coaching or another alternative to the person you just said "No" to. But again: only if it is worth that effort from you. Do not fall into the trap of using many words, starting to apologize, appearing insecure, etc.!

Practice the above 3 steps a couple of times (in front of a mirror and with a friend) and pay particular attention to your body language and facial expressions during the process. You want to appear firm and kind at the same time. Have a bit of fun and remember Warren Buffett famous words:
"The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything".
Jonathan Alpert, "7 Tips for Saying No Effectively", Inc.com
Christina Park, "Five Guilt-Free Tips For Saying 'No'", Forbes.com
Amy Gallo, "Saying No to More Work", HBR OnPoint, Winter 2018, pp. 28-29
BBC Worklife, "Why saying ‘no’ will boost your career"


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