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How to Say “No” and Mean It Print E-mail
Wednesday, 28 May 2008

“The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.”
-   Tony Blair

How to Say “No” and Mean ItHow can you confidently respond when someone makes a request you’d prefer not to accommodate? This article shares some ideas you can use to make sure you don’t find yourself doing something you’d very much prefer not to do.

The question has just been posed. Pause. Was your inclination to say yes, even though there’s a voice deep down saying “no”? Well, let’s raise the volume on that voice. What possible reasons could there be for saying no?

  • It’s beyond your means?
  • It’s beyond your comfort level?
  • You have no interest?

Identify all the reasons you have for saying no. Identify those which stem from a lack of confidence, versus a sincere disinterest in fulfilling the request.
What would happen if you said yes? Perhaps:
  • You would be considered a team-player.
  • It would make your boss happy.
  • Your visibility with higher-ups would be improved.

It comes down to a simple cost/benefit analysis really. Would the discomfort involved in saying yes outweigh the benefits of going along with the request? Or, do the benefits outweigh your temporary discomforts?

The role of guilt
Saying “no” is hard for many of us and guilt often comes into play. Whether this guilt has its foundation in religion, a proper upbringing, or a worldview that simply says “it’s not nice to say no,” we often recognise it and make decisions we’d rather not be making, based upon it.

You can say no
You’ve made the decision, after scientifically weighing the results of your cost/benefit analysis, you realize you do honestly want to say “NO”. Well, go ahead and say it clearly, and self-assuredly… in the mirror. Look yourself in the eye, and do it. Just say “NO”.

Say it like you really mean it, and then say it again as you would to whomever made the request of you. When you pretend you’re speaking to the person who made the request, does it come out differently? Practice and experiment with different ways to say “NO” until you find one you’re comfortable with. Then go, and say “NO”.

After you say no
If you’re used to giving in to others, then guess what? After all that practice, you may just be surprised to find that they are not willing to accept it! They may push, rephrase the question, or make a new, not altogether different, request.

Be prepared for this! Know your boundaries – what ARE you willing to do? Revisit the questions you asked yourself before – what would happen if you said no and what would happen if you said yes? If you are serious about saying “NO” then stick to your guns. Tell the individual making the request that you would appreciate it if they respected your wishes, and ask them to refrain from pursuing it further. If you are comfortable expressing your reasons why, then do so speaking from your personal perspective.

How to say NO

1. The “Wet lettuce NO”
If you are going to say NO, you must say it in a way that means NO! Saying NO in a quiet, unassuming voice is like a hand shake that is floppy and limp. By saying NO in an unconfident manner it will make you feel as though you have got to convince the other person about your decision and the reasons why you have said it!

2. The “Mr Angry NO”
This is at the other end of the spectrum in how to say NO. It is done in an aggressive manner and usually said with contempt. It is not an effective way to communicate your NO. Here are a couple of examples: “NO. I’m not doing that rubbish. You’ve got to be joking, aren’t you?” And: “NO. I wouldn’t lower myself to do that piece of work.”

3. The assertive NO
This is the best way to say NO! In a firm, yet polite voice say: “No. I will not be able to do that for you”. Also, if you want to say the reasons why, keep it short and sweet: “No. I will not be able to do that for you. I will be having my hair done at that time.”

4. Use effective body language
When saying NO remember the power of non-verbal communications: Look the person in the eye when you say the NO; shake your head at the same time as saying NO; stand up tall; use a firm tone in your voice.

5. When all is said and done
Don’t forget that when anyone asks a question of you, you are perfectly entitled to say, “Can I think about that and get back to you?” No-one should be pressurised into giving an immediate answer. Even just delay for a couple of minutes – it will give you some time to think it through and to gather your thoughts. It will also give you some time to think about how you are going to say no, what words to use and to think about your body language.

Practice saying NO
Practice makes perfect, as they say! In the next seven days, try to say NO more often.
So whether it is the insurance tele-salesman, the cold call, “Would you like chips with that?” or the shop assistant – practice saying NO when you mean it to one person for at least the next seven days. You’ll be an expert by the end of the week!

Feeling the benefits
Once you’ve become an expert in the appropriate use of NO, you’ll start to notice the following:
  • You will feel much more confident and proud.
  • You will find that practice makes perfect – the more you confidently say no the easier it becomes.
  • Others will respect your wishes and take you seriously the first time you say no. 
  • You won’t find yourself doing things you never wanted to do in the first place.
  • You’ll have more time to focus on the things you do want to be involved in.

The list goes on from there…

Ririan is a student in Bucharest, Romania. He reads books, blogs and websites about productivity, personal development, health, nutrition, leadership and GTD. He hopes that by sharing his own personal experiences that it will help make steps towards creating a better life, day by day, for others. For more of his thoughts visit the Ririan Project on

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