Learn to Say No to People in 6 Steps


Let’s face it, from time to time all of us have had trouble saying no, some more often than others.  After all, it’s not easy and there are several reasons we don’t do it as often as we should.  Some of those include:

  • We want to avoid conflict
  • We want to make and keep people happy
  • We don't always think about the trade-off in our own lives and schedule that occurs when we don’t say no
  • We like being able to help people

Listen, if you find it hard to say no for any of those reasons, you are…a totally normal person.  Those feelings are common, but here’s the deal: when you put too much emphasis on those fears, feelings or specific parts of the entire interaction that leads to them, you’re leaving out the bigger picture.  That bigger picture is how your inability to say no to things impacts your schedule, your business, your sanity and on a grander level: your life and happiness (and what could be more grand than that).

Like anything important, learning to say no takes practice.  In order to help you become a master at the art of saying no, I’ve created some straighforward steps you can begin implementing in your life immediately.  Try them out in any situation that they will work – no matter how small – and before long you’ll be comfortable with using this system in bigger decision making processes and conversations as well.

The Perfect No
Learn to say no like a good handshake: politely and firmly.  Keep it simple. A no is not an apology and does not need to be accompanied by lies, excuses or blaming other people, all of which are like weak handshakes...

Stop, Think, Answer
Before answering someone make an effort to pause, think and then ask yourself this:

Is this request or opportunity in tune with my personal or professional goals.  Is it going to move me closer to them, make my business better, make me happier, or improve my life?  If it is not, you’re going to know that your answer to the request will need to be a no.

But wait, does that mean I become a selfish person?  No.  To know me is to know that I’m a firm believer that including service in its many forms in your life is a good thing, and helping people is a must.  There is giving and receiving included in the equation for a happy, health life.  That said, most of the things you’re not saying no to at the time do not fall into the service/charity/making the world a better place category.

Think of the Trade-offs
Remember that when someone asks you to do something they’re basically asking for your time.  Do you have it?  Will you have to sacrifice something you want or need to do for it?  What will you be giving up to do this thing for them.  That isn’t to say it isn’t worth it, some trade-offs, say volunteering at an event in your niche, could bring you great happiness, a chance to help people, and great business rewards.  Others, like agreeing to edit someone’s new book manuscript, could be something that you need to say no to at the moment.

Watch out for this Request Ninja Move
Sometimes a request doesn’t always come in the form of a yes or no question. Another way a lot of us find us doing things we shouldn’t be doing which takes away from our bigger life and work goals (which for many are intertwined) is the Schedule Change Request.  This is when someone asks you to move up a due date, make a schedule change with you that will add stress to your life, or if someone asks you to rush your work processes.  Watch out for this Request Ninja Move.  Realize that you also need to say no to things you don’t have time for, don’t have interest in or things that don’t further your success and increase your happiness.  

Re-teach Yourself That You Don’t Need to Give an Instant Answer:
At some point we were taught that it was okay for people to expect an instant answer from us.  It’s important that you rewire the part of your brain that agrees that this is right.  You have every right to graciously reply to someone (in person, on email, via text – and don’t get me started about texting people a request) that you have received their email (this is a polite move on your part) and that you while you can’t give them an answer right now, you’ll let them know in the near future (feel free to customize this to your own speaking/email stye).  Let them know you’ll get back to them.  This is a great baby step on your road to saying no. We have become a society that is used to instant gratification and fast answers but I encourage you to take time to breathe, think clearly and answer emails, texts, or in person requests at a later date when you are present in mind and body and can make the best decision for yourself.

Find Compromise and Help in Some Way
If you really do want to get involved with a project and you’ve asked yourself the questions I told you to ask yourself earlier, and you are sure you want to answer a request or help someone in some way but not in the specific way they have asked you to, reply with “I can’t do this, but I can do XYZ” or you can say “I can’t do this but I’ll see what I can do and get back to you”.  This is a win-win for you both.  Just be sure you give yourself ample time to think through how you want to help them, and then get back to them with how you can contribute.