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How To Say No

Do you ever feel like the whole world wants a piece of you?

Your sister wants you to babysit her kids, your father-in-law wants you to set up his computer, your friends want you to help with the Kindergarten fundraiser, and at work your manager wants you to complete a two-week project in three days…

If this sounds familiar, one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal is the word ‘No’.

Although you should try to be generous and help others where possible, being able to say ‘No’ when you really need to is a very important skill that will help you preserve and utilize your most valuable asset – Time.

When you learn how to say ‘No’ to other people’s requests politely but firmly, you will be able to take back control of your life, and redirect your time towards the people and things that are most important to you.

Contrary to popular belief, saying ‘No’ to others does not have to be an uncomfortable or confrontational experience.

How to say ‘No’ in Social Situations

Saying ‘No’ to family and friends is often difficult because we feel obligated to say yes to everyone to try and maintain our family relationships.

Of course it’s nice to help out if you can, but sometimes the demands on your time can build up to the point where you simply have to say ‘No’ in order to reclaim a bit of time and space for yourself.

Here are some useful techniques for saying ‘No’ that you can use in various social situations.

The Unexplained ‘No’

One of the most effective techniques is the Unexplained No. Instead of trying to come up with a ‘good excuse’, simply say, “Sorry, I’ve already got plans.” and just leave it at that.

You don’t have to elaborate on what your plans are. Even if your ‘plans’ are to spend the day at home relaxing and reading, they are still YOUR plans, and you really don’t need to justify them to anyone else.

The Policy ‘No’

Another powerful way to say ‘No’ is to refer to a Personal Policy. For example, if you are tired of getting calls from telemarketers, just say “Sorry, but I have a personal policy not to buy things over the phone.’

You can also refer to a Family Policy. For example if friends ask you to go out for dinner you could say, “Sorry, we won’t be able to make it this time, we have a Family Policy to have dinner together on Fridays.”

The good thing about referring to a Personal or Family policy when saying ‘No’ is that it doesn’t feel like a direct rejection. You are simply saying no in order to stick to your predetermined policy.

Of course to make this approach work, you should spend some time to figure out what your Personal and Family Policies actually are.

The Partner Check ‘No’

In some situations you may just need to buy yourself a little time to think things over. One of the best ways to do this is to say something like, “Thanks, I’ll check with my wife/husband/partner and get back to you.”

I often use this approach when a sales person is trying to force me into making a buying decision on the spot.

The Full Plate ‘No’

One of the easiest ways to say no when you really need to is to simply say, “Sorry, I just have too many projects on my plate at the moment.”

The Promise ‘No’

Another very effective way to say no is to say, “Sorry, but I’ve promised myself I won’t take on any more responsibilities at the moment.”

An alternative to this approach is, “Sorry, but I’ve promised my wife/husband/partner I won’t take on any more responsibilities at the moment.”

The Honest ‘No’

And finally one of the most effective ways to say ‘No’ in social situations is just to be honest and say something like, “That sounds great, but I’ve been flat out at work this week, and I really just need a night to myself to recharge my batteries.”

This is a much better approach than trying to make up an excuse, and most people will appreciate your honesty.

How To Say No At Work

The most effective way to say ‘No’ to unreasonable demands at work is a technique I learnt in the corporate world called ‘Visual Upward Management’.

Here’s how it works…

On your computer, you create a document titled Current Priorities. You then list the major tasks currently on your plate in priority order.

At any one time, you should really only have between 1 and 5 major tasks on your list.

When your manager or someone else tries to hand you a new task, show them your list, and tell them that this is what is currently on your plate.

Ask them to confirm where the new task fits into your priority order and discuss the impact this new task will have on your existing tasks.


For example, Tina works in the Sales and Marketing department of an advertising firm. She is continually pulled in different directions by managers from various departments, and finds that her workload is becoming unbearable.

She often has to work late into the night to get everything done, and her work is having a big impact on her health and her relationship with her fiancé.

In order to be able to say ‘No’ to others, Tina creates a visual list of her current priorities, which looks like this:

The next day, Tina’s manager asks if she can give a marketing presentation the following week.

Tina shows him her Current Priorities list and explains that this is what is currently on her plate, and asks what priority the new presentation should be.

When faced with a visual representation of what Tina is working on, her manager immediately realizes that she is already working at full capacity.

They discuss the situation and Tina suggests that her colleague Martin might be able to do the presentation.

In this way, Tina is able to use ‘Visual Upward Management’ to say ‘No’ to an unreasonable demand from her manager without needing to complain or be confrontational.

When you arm yourself with practical ways to say ‘No’ in social situations and at work, you will feel empowered, and be much better prepared to deal with the barrage of requests we are all faced with on a daily basis.

Remember the goal is not to shirk your responsibilities or avoid helping your family and friends.

The goal in learning how to say ‘No’ effectively is to make sure that you don’t get overwhelmed by external demands, so you can redirect your time and effort towards the people and activities that are most important to you.

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