Learning how to say no can be hard, but it’s something that I feel can really help you be more productive, reduce stress and do a better job with the things you do say “yes” to. I’ve always been pretty good at saying no (hopefully at the right moments) and I’ve found that saying no to some things can actually help everyone involved.

Learning how (and when) to say no is something that takes practice, especially if you’re someone that is honestly interested in helping everyone you can, or one of one of the many who feels guilty every-time you turn down a request for help.

I did a little research and a lot of thinking and I’ve come up with a few tips and observations that might help you know how and when to say no.

* Getting to “yes” via “no”. There are situations (I see them all the time in my field) where projects seem to get more and more complicated. This is usually due to the addition of tasks, requirements and people. There are many times when putting your foot down and not letting a new feature creep into your project, or not allowing the addition of a new influence in, can really help you get something finished. Sometimes the quickest way to “yes” or “go” is via “no”.
* Try and lose the guilt. Sometimes the reason why people get in a situation where they are overburdened with work is that they actually feel guilty if they even think about saying no to a request. I know how this feels, but I feel that if you are taking on tasks you can’t handle just to appease your guilt, your actually not helping anyone. If you don’t have the time to do something, say so and try your best not to feel bad about it.
* Make sure you fully understand requests before you agree to anything. I know this is a hard one for me. Sometimes wanting to help can be your worst enemy and you’ll agree to something before you truly understand how it’s going to effect your time. Try and get all the facts before you start adding tasks and projects.
* “Yes” = Stress. Keep your tasks and projects manageable. If you’re overloaded, make a note of it and let people know. There is nothing wrong with trying to keep your projects and tasks manageable. Let people you work with know when they are piling to much on and if you start to feel stressed about your workload, look for things you can wait on or turn down.
* Avoid a culture of consensus. Often we agree with things to make (or keep) people happy and on our side. Unfortunately this isn’t always beneficial. I’ve seen many projects (both at Boeing and Seattle Children’s) stall mightily because there was to much effort put into making everyone and their mom happy. A few well placed no’s can help keep things moving forward.
* Stick to your plan. If saying yes to something throws your plan to get something done way off, make sure you question if it’s worth it. It seems that far too often saying yes to something just leads to more and more requests for your time.
* The best intentions might not have the best outcomes. Even if you feel you are helping by agreeing to take on a task you may be actually hindering. With many projects it’s better to take away than it is to add. Ask yourself if the task you’re agreeing to is necessary and beneficial in the grander scheme of things.
* The conditional yes. I know I feel like there are times when I feel that if I agree to something I need to do it right now. If it’s easily done, then fine, but for those larger tasks that I want or need to take on I sometimes find it helpful to put them off until I’m done with something else. This allows me to say yes, but keep my focus on what’s currently going on.
* Make no mean NO! Don’t quibble. When you say no, mean it. Stick to your guns and put the request out of your mind. Don’t feel bad about it. A task you agree to and never complete is worse for everyone involved than a simple, solid, no.

I think the bottom line here is that there are times when you simply have too much going on to stay productive. In order to keep moving towards your goals you need to know when to say no and when to push things off your plate. It can be hard, and you may feel badly about it, but in the end you’ll be happier, you’ll get more done and the people you live and work with will actually be better off for it as well.

17 Comments on How To Say “No”

  1. Josue says:

    Everyone read this article twice, print it and pin it right in front of you!

    I wish I had known how to say no more often… I’ve got a mix of feeling guilty plus a tendency to overwork (I just love working). This, plus some other circumstances has brought me to a stress leave, with many heart tests, etc.

    So people, listen to what Keith said!

  2. This is so true. There have been many times that I said Yes to things that I knew right away I should have have said yes to.

    I’m going to use these tips to try to say No to things that will bog me down.

  3. How to say No

    Have you ever said Yes to something that you wish that you hadn’t? You are not alone. D. Keith Robinson of To-Done has provided excellent tips to help you say No when you should.

    Robinson has written many articles for his To-Done site which are w…

  4. Lab notes says:

    How To Say “No”

    To-Done has another great post, this time on how to say “no”.

    Getting to “yes” via “no”. There are situations (I see them all the time in my field) where projects seem to get more and more complicated. This is usually do to t…

  5. Duane says:

    At my previous company I was the engineer that management dreaded taking to marketing meetings, because I could never say no — I always interpreted having to say no as meaning “I am unable to do that”, i.e. a personal failing. One boss told me, “Ok, we’re going into the meeting now. You aren’t allowed to say anything but No. I’m going to get you a little sign like Wile E. Coyote used to hold up, just one word on it, No.”

    We go into meeting. Marketing guy begins outlining new thing he wants. Turns to me and says, “That wouldn’t be difficult to add, would it?”

    I look at him. Look at the boss. Look back and him.

    “No,” I say.

    True story. :)

  6. Britt says:

    I’ve been slowly learning to say no but my success rate is not where I would like it to be. Saying no is something I started to try to do several months ago. I guess I was trying to take no to an overly extreme level.

  7. Katie says:

    Hehe, I love Duane’s story there :)!

    In terms of work I tend to use the conditional ‘no’ a lot, eg – “Yes I can do that for you, but I’ve got this project on now, and it’s all got to be done within working hours, so I can do it for you -insert future date here-”. No-one ever seems to have a problem with this, it’s fair, it’s legal, and the job still gets done.

    Personal ‘no’s’ can be harder I’ll admit, but yeah the concensus rule can work really well here. My logic is, if you really don’t want to be doing something, why on earth would you say yes? If it’s just to please the person asking then they’d have to really mean a lot to you. By saying yes to something you don’t want to do you’re selling yourself short and you’re not being honest with other people (imo).

    Another great post, thank you :)

  8. gary says:

    i agree – verbatim.
    it’s times like these we wish work is all about decisions and priorities, not abt licking/covering people’s ass..

    thanx for the great post :)

  9. Morning roundup: saying “no,” gold staples, faster fast food

    There’s no better way to minimize the amount of stuff on your plate than saying “no” to the stuff that doesn’t make sense. LifeHacker points us to To-Done’s tips for saying no. Cool Hunting shows us gold-plated staples as…

  10. Excellent Advice: How To Say “No”

    How To Say “No”

    Reminder to self: read and re-read this every now and again. To paraphrase a friend’s therapist, would I rather be liked, or respected?…

  11. Be Nice and Just Say No

    I try to be a nice person and I would hope that people who know me would describe me as nice. I don’t think it is because I am nice by default but because I actually work at being nice. I’m like everyone else; I’m quite egocentric and want things t…

  12. No your enemy

    Ran across an article on To Done today that provides some helpful tips on how to say “No” when you need to.  At first, this seems kind of like the anti-matter version of that book  ”Getting To Yes,” but it’s more than that. 
    The c…

  13. bizzymama says:

    How do you say no to family without arguing and fighting. I can’t stand all the whining and the persistent asking, begging, pleading that goes on. The stress is causing me to be physically ill and I can’t focus on the good things in life. Friends and family usually put hubby up to ask me for things. I say no, he says yes. Friends and family win, I’m the bad guy. Help!!

  14. thomas says:

    one of the best articles on your site. you really only say the same thing many times, but it’s actually useful, because each repetition looks at the word “NO” from a different angle.

    i wish you’d add a “PRINT” feature (like a major news site) so that i can get a nicely-formatted document for my printer.

    since you don’t have a “PRINT” feature, i plan on making a very large poster of these guidelines and hanging it in my new office ASAP.

  15. shane says:

    to do or not to do that is the main thing.THE BEST IS ON YOU

  16. tagreed awoda says:

    how women can say no

  17. tagreed awoda says:

    how women can say no

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