Volume 95, February 2009: Learning to Say No

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2009 ISSN # 1545-8873

“Keep the main thing the main thing.” — Corporate Mantra

“He who sows peas on the highway does not get all his pods in the barn.” — Greek Proverb

“No, naw, nope, nah, nay, nix, no more, nothing doing.” — Synonyms for No

“To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” — Elbert Hubbard

“Let your yes be a clear yes, and your no, no. All else spells trouble.” — Jesus of Nazareth


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Choosing important work, by making and keeping priorities.
  • Defining personal boundaries of one’s own space.
  • Putting a curb on non-value-adding activity for yourself and your entire system.
  • Delegating appropriately.
  • Saying “no” with grace.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

Here are two terms that have largely disappeared: “workaholism” and “assertiveness.” Both are relevant to a current subject, the inability to say “No.” A leader’s role can be replete with deadlines, details, many meetings, and requests for your time coming from every direction. Leaders can become overcommitted, overwhelmed, overworked and under pressure. It is easy to get sucked into non-priorities.

When you say “No,” you are sending a strong message that you value your time, you know your priorities, and you have set your boundaries. If you don’t say this simple word when you want to say it, you will lose control of your life (Bolton. p. 1986).

Say “Yes” to the right things. Stick to your plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

“I have difficulty saying No. Why?”
“No” can be a destructive word, potentially causing embarrassment, damage to relationships and career. It can hurt, anger or disappoint.
Look at our messages of growing up. We are socialized to be acquiescent and compliant, accommodating, going out of our way to be helpful. We should always be nice.
As a result, you overdo “Yes” because:
  • You experience guilt.
  • You feel you are being selfish or may hurt others’ feelings.
  • You have been taught to be the model of sacrifice and self-denial.
  • You fear that you will hurt others.
  • You fear that you will not be asked again.
  • You fear rejection.
  • You have a desire to please, to be nice.
  • You have a desire to control.
  • You need to feel important.
  • You feel their time is more valuable than yours.
“Got a formula for saying No?”
Linda D Tillman, PhD has one, on her site, Speak Up For Yourself:
  1. When someone makes a request, it is always okay to ask for time to think it over. In thinking it over, remind yourself that the decision is entirely up to you.
  2. Use your nonverbal assertiveness to underline the “No.” Make sure that your voice is firm and direct. Look into the person’s eyes as you say, “No.” Shake your head “No,” as you say, “No.”
  3. Remember that “No,” is an honorable response. If you decide that “No,” is the answer that you prefer to give, then it is authentic and honest for you to say, “No.”
  4. If you say, “Yes,” when you want to say, “No,” you will feel resentful throughout whatever you agreed to do. This costs you unnecessary energy and discomfort.
  5. If you are saying “No” to someone whom you would help under different circumstances, use an empathic response to ease the rejection. “I know it must be tough to find a sitter, but I’ve already made plans for that time.”
  6. Start your sentence with the word, “No.” It’s easier to keep the commitment to say, “No,” if it’s the first word out of your mouth.
“Are there principles for maintaining good relationships while turning people down?”
As William Ury (2007) says, exercise your power while you tend to your relationships. He teaches us that “A Positive No begins with Yes and ends with Yes” – a sandwich technique for delivering bad news. Here are some positive touches from other authors:
  • Thank them for honoring you with the request.
  • Use reflective listening, then say “No.”
  • Tell the truth. Let them down gently.
  • Provide data and rationale (the Reasoned “No”).
  • Provide alternatives. Reroute the request.
  • Avoid I’ll try, maybe’s, wishy-washiness that will confuse them.
  • Defer – give it another place or time (the Rain check “No”).
  • Tell them what you can do for them.
  • If you feel pressured or uncertain, buy time: “I’ll get back to you.”
  • If it’s your boss asking, you can just say, “My plate is full. Let’s review my projects and decide what to change, so I have time to add something.” Then, review and reprioritize.

Exercises And Action Items:

  • Assess your commitments and prioritize. Delegate where appropriate.
  • Practice assertively saying “No” – The Power of Saying “No”.


Learn how to relieve stress by saying No, from the Mayo Clinic: When and how to say no.

How to Say No.

Twenty ways to say No with appropriate phraseology: 20 Ways To Say No.

Key Associates offers Leadership Training in Time Management, Planning and Prioritizing, Delegation, Dealing with Difficult People, and Managing Stress. Contact us for more information.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

Assertive vs. aggressive or unassertive No’s: .

Rearranging your mental furniture about saying No: How to Say No.

Additional tips on how to say No: The Power of Saying “No”.

Keyzines on related topics: Dealing with Difficult People, Personal Change, Renewing Ourselves, Having Difficult Conversations, Minding Manners, Stress Management, Changing Habits, and Civility.



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