The Art of Saying No

One of the hardest things for me to do is to say “no” to people. It gets me in all sorts of trouble, too. I get over-committed, over-booked, over-stressed in an effort to please everyone all the time.

It’s a common problem – I know lots of people for whom saying “no” is the worst thing they could possibly do. However, there are times when saying “no” is exactly what I need to do. The crazy thing is, 99.9% of the times I have ever said “no” to someone, it’s totally okay. There’s none of the backlash, hurt feelings, and disappointment that I often make up in my own head.

As I get more busy in my business, my personal life and as I continue to grow my online network, I find I am having to say “no” more often. Don’t get me wrong…I have absolutely no issue with helping people when they ask me for it. In fact, I enjoy helping people. That’s why I do it. But there comes a point, where, if it’s too much for me to balance with my job, my family etc., that I have to say that nasty “no”.

I’ve learned that there are techniques for saying “no” gracefully. And the number one way to say “no” to someone nicely is to communicate with them. Seems kind of backwards, since you’re trying to NOT have to do something, but communication is the vital key.

Don’t Ignore. Ignoring and avoidance is the worst thing you can do. The problem with ignoring someone when you should be saying “no” to them is that they think you don’t care. If someone sends you a request or asks you a favour and you just can’t accommodate, better to send a polite response saying why you are unable to fulfill their request than not to respond at all.

What if Volume is an Issue? Feeling overwhelmed by all the people wanting a piece of you? We’ve all been there. I have weeks where my inbox is chock full of people wanting something from me. My voice mail is also full. It’s pretty overwhelming, and my first instinct is to run away and hide. How to deal with volume requests? Well, I hooked up AwayFind on my email, that at least helps me to determine what requires my urgent attention and what doesn’t. But the man who has this one cased is the inimitable Gary Vaynerchuk. You see, if you send Gary an email, he sends you an automated reply. Now, before you go getting all bent out of shape about automated replies..check out what he sends:

Hey, here’s a link that will explain everything!

Thank you
Gary Vaynerchuk

Click on the link. You get Gary, on a video, explaining how he deals with email, and asking for people’s help in helping him manage his correspondence. He provides contacts for all his online outposts, and contacts for his “people” too. He is saying “no”, and doing it in a personable, polite way.

Delegate delegate delegate. Trying to keep up with responding to everything all the time is impossible if you’re super busy. So find ways to filter information to people who can more easily and quickly help. In essence, what you are doing here is saying “No, I can’t help you, but I’m referring you to this person who I trust to help you.” Of course, you want to make sure that the person you are delegating to is available and willing to say “yes”. Delegation is hard to do – but it’s worth it, always. Just make sure that you have people you absolutely trust on board…because every time you delegate, it’s still your reputation that’s on the line.

So there you have it – these are a few interesting ways that I’ve learned about how to politely decline. We all have times that we have to say “no” to people, and it’s never easy. Please share some techniques that you use when you need to say “no” in the comments.

Oh, and by the way – if you say “no” to someone politely and they get mad at you, start flaming you, or have an otherwise negative reaction, before you feel bad about it…consider whether they were worth helping in the first place.

Category:about life, Work
Social Media is NOT an Innovation
FTN: For The New!


  • December 2, 2008 at 10:48 am

    When I’m asked for help and I know I won’t, can’t or don’t want to do it, I will ask the person what the problem is and what kind of outcome they want. The last question I ask is do they care how it’s all done. And then, from all of that information, I decide if I know someone else who can do the deed instead and make a few simple calls. Typically I can locate a much more suited person for the job at hand, or know of someone the person can contact for names and numbers or information to someone else in my world who can get the task done for them. The bonus of growing up in a large family is that you know a LOT of people, who know even more people, and if you listen to your siblings yammer on about so and so doing this and that, you store that crap in your mind’s roladex without realising it and you then have a much better information library to tap in the future when things like this pop up.

    For the record, I always so no to overtime, and I always say no to anything that will take me away from Joe and our bed. That’s my prime directive. If it screws with my home life, forget it.

    If you ask me at work and it means more work for Joe, the answer will ALWAYS be no, even if you’re family.

    I don’t have any issues with being assertive. I had to learn that growing up in my large family very early on, but perfecting the art was a totally different ball game.

    You are correct in stating that saying no with kindness is the only way to go with the exception of when you get a pest who won’t take no for an answer the first five times.

  • December 2, 2008 at 11:39 am

    In my business as a composer, the first rule is to never tell someone no. Obviously that’s a bit of an overstatement, and as I move forward in my career and get larger projects that take up more time, I have to turn some things down.

    For me, the word “can’t” is more accurate. I never say I “can’t” do something, because there’s always a way. It may not be a cheap or easy way, but I’ve found that if a client thinks you’ve tried every avenue, they know that you cared enough to look at it from multiple angles before making an educated decision.

    I think your solutions are a wonderful way to turn work down without damaging your relationship with the client.

  • December 2, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    It’s the age-old debate on when to say no and who to. I’m with you 100% in that it gets harder the more “recognized” you become – it’s like you feel an obligation to help, whether it’s your boss, your friends, or even your blog readers. 😉

    But there will always have to come a time that No is the only answer you can give – and as you say, true friends will understand. The others? Maybe they’re not as friendly as you think.

  • December 2, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    @Stacerella My priority is always my family first. I do find it a lot easier to say no when Greg, my parents, my brother or my nephews are involved.

    @Rob I agree with your theory on not telling a client “no” in that sense. Anything is possible, it just takes time, energy and money. I would never out and out say “no” in that sense, to be sure. However, I often get requests of my time and effort that’s kind of outside the work I do for a living. I am happy to help as many people as possible. But sometimes, if it’s not possible for me to do, I have to find a way to turn it down. Those are the kinds of “no’s” I find more difficult to deal with sometimes. You have an interesting perspective on things – thanks for sharing it!

  • December 2, 2008 at 2:47 pm
    Robert Howells

    Gary is not saying no, he actually does get back to your email, but it takes him a bit longer. When I first emailed Gary a few years ago he responded ASAP. Now that Gary is an internet celebrity it takes him longer to respond but he always replies and that is alright with me.

  • December 2, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    I agree with you, Suze, I have a hard time with no. There are time when I too am asked to do things out of my parameters, and every time I say no there’s a little voice in the back my head whispering, “What if that was the thing the becomes huge, and you just passed it up?”

  • December 2, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    @Robert. Perhaps “no” is an incorrect term – sometimes it sounds harsh (and that is part of the problem). Gary always responds to my emails too and I know this is most people’s experience. Perhaps what he is saying is “not right now”, and that’s okay with me.

  • December 2, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    I agree with you on the difficulty of saying “no” or even “please wait.” Gary is an almost-master at this: he always responds, which is in some ways superhuman. I mean, I wouldn’t wish Gary’s time commitments on anyone, but that’s what makes him the inimitable GaryV!

    As for his inbox message (which I, too, have gotten many times), I really like his idea. I love how he puts a human face on a very human and understandable situation…but it’s also a very Gary solution to a very Gary problem. In other words, I wouldn’t want to spend a few minutes watching a video after I email just-anyone, but with Gary things are always a little different ;-).

    Just something to bear in mind, but I’m very impressed with how well he’s pulled it off, though I think someday he’ll have to actually say “No” to more things. And I think we all need to.

    Fortunately, as you mention, there’s delegating. And there’s also scheduling 15 minute phone calls instead of lunches and all sorts of other little hacks for being responsive without being too available. Good luck on finding that balance!

    Jared from AwayFind

  • January 30, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    […] in December I wrote a post on The Art of Saying No. It was in response to an overwhelming number of demands and requests I’d been receiving for […]



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