Just Say No

Just Say No

Bonnie, the receptionist at my dentist’s office, asked if I’d like to attend the fundraiser for the local school. My “no” was met with a huge “Thank you!” She explained, “I hate it when people say, ‘Let me check my schedule,’ as if their calendar is their decision-maker. They already know the answer but are afraid to say no.”

Ask For What You Want

If asking for what we want is one side of a coin, the flip side is declining what we don’t. More than 80 percent of us have trouble saying no, according to a survey by Mary M. Byers, author of How to Say No . . . and Live to Tell About It: A Woman’s Guide to Guilt-Free Decisions. But sometimes no is the right answer! This is particularly the case when by saying no, we’re really saying yes to something else. What would life be like if we said no to what we think “they” want and instead said yes to what really calls to us? How would it be different if we tuned out the “shoulds” on behalf of what inspires and moves us?

“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back.” — Maya Angelou

Why We Can’t Say No


I am not proposing we shirk our responsibilities and obligations; I’m merely suggesting that we check for any self-imposed, life-draining fates. When year after year we automatically show up for a job that no longer fits, or a relationship that no longer feeds us, it exacts a huge toll. When we automatically say yes to the endless stream of minor requests, they nibble away at our life force, leaving us less available for what is really ours to do. Bottom line: Until you have a strong no, you’ll always have a weak yes.

If your mouth keeps saying yes when you really mean no, ask yourself where the disconnect is:

Are you afraid of missing out on something?

Do you think that if you say no, people won’t like you?

Do you tell yourself that if you don’t do it, it will never get done?

Are you concerned that others will think you’re not a team player?


Consider the possibility that the opposite is true. Powerful people get lots of requests and frequently say no.


To whom or what do you need to say no?

  • The numerous calls from my mom/partner/friend
  • Organizing birthday parties in the office
  • The sweets that my co-worker brings to the office
  • The invitation to go shopping when I’m on a budget
  • The dinner invitation
  • Chairing a committee
  • The business meeting that I don’t really need to attend
  • My daughter’s request for a puppy
  • Listening to a friend’s repetitive complaints
  • My sister’s request to borrow money
  • My husband’s request for a new car
  • My subordinate’s request for a pay increase

To whom will you say no to this week?

  • Partner
  • Friend
  • Mother
  • Father
  • Sister
  • Brother
  • Co-worker
  • Boss
  • Doctor
  • Lover
  • Neighbor
  • Mentor

Tips For Saying No


Saying no doesn’t have to mean a flat refusal. There are ways to skillfully decline what doesn’t serve you. First of all, humor lubricates! Try saying this with a smile on your face and in your voice: “I appreciate your confidence in me, but I’m actually not Superwoman! Let me tell you when I can get that done.”

And remember to be authentic. Lying—even if it’s what we call a white lie—leaves a residue. Time management expert Peter Turla says, “If you can’t say no, you might say something like, ‘Yes, I can do it—if you don’t mind this other project being delayed.’ Or, ‘Yes, I can do it if you extend the deadline, or get me some help with my other project, or let me work on just the critical part of it and do the rest later.’ Or ‘Yes, if it doesn’t have to be done to a high level, I’ll do the whole thing as a quick-and-dirty version.’”