Saying No

Have you ever found yourself facing a person who needs you to volunteer for something when you do not want to? You find yourself agreeing, and later you kick yourself for doing so. This is probably not the first time it has happened, either. Saying “no” to others who ask for your help, information, or resources is often difficult. Saying “no” may conflict with your genuine desire to help and be seen as a team player. You may worry that a refusal will make you sound unfriendly; however, saying “no” is one of the things you must do to honor your prior commitments and manage your time well.

Keep in mind that saying “yes” to everyone else results in saying “no” to your own priorities. “No” is not synonymous with being rude, unfriendly, or nasty. It simply means that at this time you will not be able to accommodate the request. In order to refuse, you must resist the tendency to agree automatically; give yourself time to evaluate your energy and ability to accommodate a particular request and decide whether you truly want to be involved. This applies to situations that are truly voluntary, and not to job assignments couched as requests.

Getting started

Explore your motives in continually saying “yes.” Do you have a high need to feel useful? Many people encourage others to ask for their help. Being constantly called upon is a real ego boost. The downside is that your desire to be needed can be taken advantage of by others who know that they can always count on you.

Be civil, be polite, and be understanding, but say “no.” Help others find alternative ways to solve their problems. Search for a way to be useful without doing the entire project. Offer referrals or suggestions about how they can handle the situation. Encourage them to come to you if there are problems for which there are no other solutions, but also encourage self-reliance.

Practice saying “no” in situations that do not have a lot of emotional charge to them. Once comfortable, build up to saying “no” to the things that have more emotional impact. You will become more confident and self-assertive as you practice.

When you wish to decline, do not hesitate. Say “no” right away before your ambivalence betrays you. Although people may try to apply pressure, be firm. This is your right, particularly when people are asking you to volunteer your time. Remember that guilt is not fatal. You will become more comfortable with practice.

Ways to say no

Option 1. Allow someone else to say no for you. When a request comes in, check your availability. If you cannot accommodate the request, have a secretary or assistant call back, explaining that you have looked and that your schedule is tight for the next week. You will not be able to help this time. Be sure to thank the requester for thinking of you.

Option 2. Use your schedule to say no. When a request comes in, open your calendar immediately. Look at the week in question. Consider your existing commitments and those inevitable unplanned situations that are likely to arise. If your schedule is too full, say no immediately, explaining that you have prior commitments, and thank the requester.

Option 3. Say no now, but yes to a time in the future. Use this option when you are truly interested in participating, but you just cannot do so now. Your statement may be, “I’m under deadline for the next two weeks, but the next time the fundraising event comes around, I would be happy to participate.”

Option 4. Ask for the request in writing. Conversations often happen when your calendar is not in front of you. Before committing, you must get all the details and check your availability. Here is a friendly way to respond: “I can’t trust my memory. Could you send me a quick note so that I can think about it and check my calendar? Thank you.” This way, the responsibility is on the requester. Many requests will go away because people will not even take the time to drop you a note. For those who do drop you a line, you can then check your calendar and your interest, and make a thoughtful decision.


Creel, Ramona, “20 Ways to Say No,”

Bruzzese, Anita, “Four Ways to Say ‘No” at Work,”

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