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The Art of Saying "No"

The Art of Saying "No"

Saying “no” is difficult and uncomfortable, especially when refusing a request from someone we admire. We don’t like to disappoint and certainly don’t want others to think of us as selfish or unaccommodating.

To avoid these negative feelings, we often say yes when we really want or need to say no. The result: we overcommit and overschedule. We become stressed and overwhelmed. Resentment builds. Time and energy are stolen from the things that matter most.

[Related: Being Busy is Nothing to Brag About]

There is one simple strategy that can help you break this cycle: master the art of saying, “no.” Here are a few simple ways to politely, but firmly decline all of those requests that don’t quite fit in with your current priorities and obligations:

1. Prepare and rehearse a few ways to say, “no” in advance.

  • “It sounds like a wonderful opportunity, but unfortunately, I am going to have to sit this one out.”
  • “I wish I could, but it doesn’t work for me at this time.”

2. Buy some time to evaluate your decision carefully.

  • “Let me check with my spouse to see if we are available that day.”
  • “Thank you for the invitation. I need to check my schedule and get back to you.”
  • “Let me think about it.”

[Related: Powerful Solutions To Help Stop and Prevent Burnout]

3. Invoke a policy. It communicates that your refusal isn’t personal.

  • “I appreciate the invitation, but we have a policy to have dinner as a family on Friday evenings.”
  • “I have a firm policy to spend Saturdays with my children and, therefore, do not attend Saturday meetings.”

4. Keep it honest, but without too much detail so that you don’t provide the asker an opportunity to modify the request.

  • “Thank you for thinking of me. Unfortunately, I am not available.”
  • “Rats! I have already committed to too many things.”
  • “I appreciate the offer, but I have another commitment that evening.” 5. When evaluating your response, consider how your “future self” will feel.
  • “This is a very busy year. I would like to help, but I would be overcommitting myself. With advance notice, I would be happy to help next year.”
  • “I procrastinated on a big project that is now almost due. I am now not able to add anything to my calendar.”
  • “Because of my current obligations, I won’t be able to give this opportunity the time it deserves.” 

I hope you enjoy the space you just created by honoring your own priorities. Happy Planning!


Dana Masset is the President of Planning Etc. LLC, a productivity consultancy focused on improving performance through strategic planning, organization, and time management.

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