Learning to Say No

Look around your workplace. You will find leaders who are harried, hurried, stressed, overworked, angry, frustrated and burned out. Failure to delegate and trying to solve problems that are unsolvable are two of the greatest sources of these problems. And learning to say NO in a calm, confident and appropriate way is one of the first steps in being able to delegate.

We don’t say no for so many reasons:

1. We want to be liked

2. We have no confidence in the other person’s ability to do the job

3. We like to say yes because we want to HELP

4. We don’t know how to say no in the right way

5. We have fallen into a pattern of distorted thinking so we believe saying no is wrong

6. We have developed a habit of saying yes

7. We do not understand how to delegate

8. We think holding others accountable is a bad thing

9. You fill in your reason ________________________

Learn how to say no:

Saying no needs to be practiced, especially if you have practiced being a door mat for a long time. Ouch! Was that too harsh? I wanted to make sure you were reading. If you are not used to saying no it will feel alien, strange, and uncomfortable. Start small and easy. Practice getting good at small nos. Like no to the waiter or waitress when they ask if you want a drink other than water at the restaurant. Or no to your child when they have spent their allowance. Or no to the dinner party where the guest list consists of too many people who rub you the wrong way. And at work practice saying no to those that you don’t like-at least at first.

Your level of passion, or lack of it, is very important in being able to say no effectively.

What is the proper level of emotion or passion? Try saying no with the same level of passion that you would use when you ask “Please pass the salt?”

Timing is very important as well. Sometimes a yes is easier and quicker. Keep in mind that saying yes becomes a habit. Like any other habit, the longer you say yes, the harder it will be to say no.

Four Different Ways to say no:

1. No.

Sometimes simple is best. No is a perfectly appropriate answer to a question such as:

“Joe, I am so overworked and you have finished your task on the project. Could you pitch in and help me finish mine?”


(in many cases what the person is actually saying on the inside is: “I am getting paid the same salary as you and will collect the same early completion bonus as you, but I was too busy shopping online to get my work done. And I want to bug out early for the basketball game and you are such a sap you always say yes. Could you pitch in and help me finish my task?”)

There-didn’t that make it easier to say?


2. Since many of you will find this too difficult and it does feel raw if you don’t have a great relationship with the other person let’s try a different way-

“I’d love to. I simply can’t hit do what you are asking me to do by the Tuesday afternoon deadline you have asked for. Now, I might be able to do this for you by next Thursday and I would guarantee that it would be done by the Thursday after that. Is that good enough? No, well let’s walk over and see if Suzy could help you?”

How was that? Practice, practice and more practice.

Now, the next one is a little tougher. How many of you have to say no to your boss?

3. “I’d love to Boss. I am way excited by this. It’s great that we are taking this on. Now please show me which one of your priorities you want me to move down the list so I can fit this in so I know how to prioritize. Is this project more important or less important that project J? Is this task more important or less important than project Z? And which additional resources are available to work on this task. If none, which resources would you like me to take from other projects?”

And finally:

4. “Boss, I am so fired up that we are finally taking a look at this. I agree with you on this project being supremely important. I support how you researched possible alternatives. I am in complete alignment with you on the resources as well as the team. I think the time-frame for completion is spot on as well.

I would simply like to try a slightly different approach. I’d like you to support me in trying x instead of y for the next 120 days. We will put a stake in the sand at 120 days. If you and I are not happy with mutually agreed upon metrics at the 120 day marker, then I will slam the brakes on and run hard and fast at Y. Can you support me in that?

Understand that example #4 above can only be used if you have a record of truthfulness with your boss. This is not something that will work if you are brand new to your position.


Because you boss will not have reason to support you. And number 1 below also can only be used if you have a record of truthfulness with your boss.


Because many bosses would think that you would sand bag the project so that you could try your own solution.

For extra credit practice using process 4 from above in four different ways.

1. You disagree with boss and support them by going along with their decision

2. You disagree with boss and ask them to support you in your chosen path

3. You agree with subordinate and support them by going along with their decision

4. You disagree with subordinate and ask them to go along with your decision

Learn to say no to burdens that don’t belong on your shoulders. Then you will have time to say yes to playing in the rain with your children. You will have time to say yes to studying Spanish before your vacation to Belize. You will be able to say yes to holding your spouse’s hand and taking a walk after dinner.