The Art of saying No

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Recently at our Circles the subject of saying no came up and how to professionally say no without damaging your brand. We put the subject on our forums and members came back with several good suggestions.

Below are the top 10 suggestions from members on the best ways to say no:


  • Context is important. Yes, I can do that but it will mean that I will need to stop X or Y” – that often reveals how important the new request really is.
  • If you feel blindsided and are inclined to say yes by default, then try and move to saying: I can’t give you an answer right now as I will need to look at my priorities and will let you know by the end of the day (or whatever timeline works with the request). That will give you crucial time to analyse pros and cons.
  • If asked to do/deliver something, that you don’t believe you could deliver, seek more information to understand the request. Give a realistic completion time because if you say yes and don’t deliver then it will come back on you and will damage your brand.
  • Don’t respond with a blunt no but rather– thank you for asking me, I would really like to participate however I don’t feel that I would be able to put in the time that this project truly deserves and I wouldn’t want to let you down, so for now I will decline.
  • If a co-worker is asking you to do something that will interfere with getting your job done, say – I would really love to help you, but I have other priorities that need to be done by xyz. If I didn’t have these priorities I would be more than happy to help.
  • The key is to say no professionally and be upfront with the person as to why. If they have been taking advantage of your generosity and getting you to do their work, this is even more reason to say no, as eventually it will affect what you need to get done. If the person asking is a more junior staff member, it is important to look at why they are asking. Do they need more training? Help them and make sure they understand this is a once off.
  • Analyse what you are saying yes and no to. Does it impact your job? Are you being taken advantage of? Will it help you learn something or will it help someone else learn? Is it bad for the company if you say no? Don’t say no or yes until you know what you are saying no or yes to. Have the full picture and ask questions.
  • You don’t have to necessarily say “no” but offer some information/guidance to help. You may connect them with other people in the business who might like the opportunity to work on an item/project and help guide them rather than do.
  • Look closely at what you are saying yes to outside the work environment as well. We say yes to siblings, cousins, neighbours etc far too often at the sacrifice of quality home time with ourselves and our family. Doing too much on the weekend for everyone else will sometimes add stress that you could take back into work on Monday. Make sure to also analyse the weekend yes’s. Be upfront with people and don’t make up excuses, just say, Thank you for the invitation but I am going to have a quiet weekend at home.
  • Say no to your technology on the weekend as you will also be tempted to say yes to email requests. If you are always accessible on the weekend people will see you as the go to person for everything.

This is something we all deal with on a daily basis. I often get asked to participate in various things. The top tips that I practice are:

  • I look at my main priorities first.
  • I have to be passionate about what I am being asked to do and able to do it justice.
  • There must be a realistic time line.
  • A quick no is a good no. Don’t drag people on and think about it for weeks. 24 hours is long enough for most requests.
  • Never say yes and then back out or miss a deadline as it will damage your brand.

How do you say no politely? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Regards, Judith Beck.

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