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Strategies and examples on how to say “no” effectively and guilt-free
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“Yes, sure, I can take that on. Don’t worry about it.”
How many times have you said those words and immediately regretted it, knowing that your plate is already full?
If you also have a hard time saying “no” to things, I’m with you. Saying “no” is a challenge many of us face.
The more we advance in our career—and life in general—the more demands are going to be put on us, to the extent that we won’t have time to meet all of them. Prioritizing, triaging, and cutting things become the only solutions.
Saying “no” creates time, and who doesn’t need more time?
In today’s article we’re covering:
why saying “no” is difficult
why learning to say “no” is a key life skill
strategies + examples for effectively saying “no” guilt-free
Why is it so hard to say no?
The reason varies from person to person. Most people—myself included—struggle with saying “no” for the following reasons:
don’t want to seem rude, unkind or selfish
don’t want to hurt people’s feelings
trying to avoid conflict
out of obligation
fear of negative consequences / retaliation
fear of missing out—FOMO
The list can go on, feeling like this is very normal and more common than we think.
The thing that we often forget is:
You can’t control how people react – some might be disappointed, and others might appreciate you more.
Saying "yes" and not following through will make people more upset than if you had said "no" from the beginning.
Whether we choose "yes" or "no", each option has an opportunity cost that we must not overlook.
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How to say “no” without feeling bad
Saying no takes strength so here are some mindset shifts that make saying “no” feel less icky:
Think of it as a tradeoff
when you say no to something, you say yes to something else, both are opportunities
You’re saying “no” to the request, not the person
you’re not rejecting the person, just declining their proposal
make that clear & let them know
You have to say no to good opportunities in order to say yes to great ones
Nobody knew that better than Steve Jobs, who said:
Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.
How saying “no” more often will improve your life
When you learn to say no, life becomes much more uncomplicated and enjoyable. This applies to work, friends, family, relationships, you name it.
Being deliberate about what you say “yes” to gives you better control over your time.
Also, saying “no” increases confidence. There is nothing more empowering than saying “no” to something that’s not aligned with your values, your goals, and your desires. Staying true to yourself is the highest form of self-validation.
Lastly, people will respect you for having healthy boundaries.
Strategies for saying “no” + Examples
When you say “no”, for maximum effectiveness keep the following in mind:
Be polite, but don’t sugarcoat.
Use a calm but assertive voice
Stay firm in your stance, and don’t waiver even if the other side is pushy
a no can easily become a yes, but it’s harder to go from yes to no
resist the urge to justify or over-explain yourself
Other things that might help:
having a prepared response—or script on how the conversation might go.
practicing with someone else ahead of time
Without further ado, here are my favorite strategies for saying no:
Note that none actually use the word “no”.
Sadly, I have something else going on.
I wish I were able to, but ….
I don't have the bandwidth for that right now.
I'm honored you asked me, but I simply can't.
I'm sorry, I'm not able to fit this in.
Decline, but counteroffer
If you’re truly interested in helping, you have the option to offer an alternative. For instance:
I am not available at that time, but why don’t we find some time for the following week?
This isn’t in my wheelhouse, but I know someone who might be helpful.
Buy more time
Don’t feel pressured to answer on the spot.
“I’ll get back to you with an answer” + actually get back to them
I need to check my calendar. Is it okay if I get back to you in <X days/hours/minutes>?
Saying "no" saves time, reduces overwhelm, and increases confidence.
It's better to say "no" than to make false promises.
Every "yes" has an opportunity cost that we must not overlook
Learning to say "no" leads to a more uncomplicated and enjoyable life.
Strategies for saying "no" include being polite but assertive, offering alternatives, and buying more time.
You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. If you want to thrive, not just survive, you have to learn how to say no.
Stay tuned for next week’s article when I’ll be sharing:
how I survived saying the scariest “no” I ever said to my boss
how we can apply the strategies from today’s article in the workplace
Do you struggle with saying “no”? How do you get over it? I would love to hear from you.
Until next time,
Your Caring Techie
My intention with The Caring Techie was to co-create a space where we discuss the most pressing problems and needs of anybody working in the Tech industry. I’ve curated every article with only one intention in mind - to help you become a powerful leader with tools and mindset shifts I wish I had.
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