The Power of No

By failing to say no to anything, you leave yourself open to everything.

Learn to say ‘no’ to what does not align with your own goals.

Learn to say ‘no’ to demotivating people (those who only steal your time, those who don’t behave correctly with you, those who expect a lot from you but give little or nothing back, those who make you feel inadequate).

Learn to say ‘no’ to the clients that ask for too much without giving you anything in exchange.

Learn to say ‘no’ to those who treat you badly. Remember that you are a precious human being. Learn to say ‘no’ to your past and ‘yes’ to your future.

Go back to the goals in your mind, written in a place visible to you. These are YOUR goals and the only goals that matter. After accomplishing these goals, you can afford to become a nice person and help a friend with his goals.

If you have no goals, than you also lack the criteria to say now to a request. I often come back to the question 'What are you up to?' If my answer is 'not much' than I'm opening myself up to working on other people's goals.

Remember, a demotivating person in your life only takes and never gives, even if they make you believe otherwise. They will only give you what suits them and their agenda.

There are several ways to say no without offending another person.

I am saying exactly what the airplane announcer tells us when the cabin pressure goes low and the oxygen mask drops. Help YOURSELF before helping others including children or elderly. Because if you are not in a good shape and waver from your goals, you eventually won’t be able to help others either.

Saying no to requests you don’t want to follow through on or don’t have time to accomplish is a difficult skill to master. Especially at the office, many people feel compelled to be a “yes man.” But as a Mel Robbins explains below, there’s a pretty easy way to keep yourself from saying yes when what you really need to say is no.

Being nice doesn't have to mean you never say no, but it requires that you are are honest.

When you say no, you trade a moment of discomfort for a day of ease.

When you say yes - while you avoid the conflict, you create more weight (which can have a negative impact on your self.)

5 Phrases you can use to say no

  1. I can't commit to this...
  2. I'd love to, but...
  3. Let me think about it...
  4. I'm not the right person (right now)...
  5. Now's not a good time...

What follows the phrase is your truth.

My own issue with not being able to say no stems from childhood. I was the 2nd born and my older brother was not happy when I entered the scene. I can understand why... before I came along, he was the center of attention. He got all the love. And then I showed up and instantly became my mother's golden boy.

I can also remember the emotional pain that came from being the last picked for dodgeball on the school playground.

I know that a major driver for me is the need for inclusion. Not just for myself, but for others as well. I hate whenever someone is left out. My friend once reminded me that I can even take a great experience and taint it when I bring up who's missing out on it. I guess you could say I have empathetic FOMO.

One takeaway from the Mel Robbins video above is to consider that you're modeling better behavior for others to follow as well. If you always say yes, at the expense of your self, what kind of example do you set? Also, isn't it possible that my own role models (think of our moms) actually did us a disservice by always saying yes to us (or in some cases, saying yes to everyone else).

The key lies in saying “I don’t” instead of “I can’t.” In one of several tests included in a study by Boston College and the University of Houston first released several years ago, researchers found that volunteers who said “I don’t skip exercise” instead of “I can’t skip exercise” worked out more often.

Regardless of whether you’re talking to yourself or another person, “can’t” suggests that you might want to do something, but aren’t able to; Robbins gives the example of saying "I can't eat cake for lunch." The implication is that in another set of circumstances, you could. But when you say “I don’t” ("I don't eat cake for lunch"), there’s no room for debate. It’s a hard-and-fast rule that you set for yourself.

The researchers write that “using the word ‘don’t’ serves as a self-affirmation of one’s personal willpower and control in the relevant self-regulatory goal pursuit, leading to a favorable influence on feelings of empowerment, as well as on actual behavior. On the other hand, saying ‘I can’t do X’ connotes an external focus on impediments.”

This concept is reaffirmed in Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey when he shares the story of saying No to his host family in Australia who demanded they call them Mom & Dad. It was the defiance of their demand that he found his anchor that would serve him for the rest of his life.

The 'No' Program

Some programs you can run when you need to say NO.

As much as I want to explore new opportunities, and assist clients with their needs, there are times when I have to say no. It's much more difficult than saying yes - as the word no incites conflict which we want to avoid.

The issue with saying yes, or failing to say no shows up as: * An implied yes. * Resentment for ____, because it's taking you away from ____. * Others stealing your time.

People pleasures (many who are middle children) like myself want to make everybody happy. I don't want anyone to feel left out or jaded. I am hyper tuned in when someone in the room is unsatisfied. As a result, I often apply a good deal of time and energy working to make people happy, many of whom will never be happy no matter what I do. But I'll try - until I finally give up and move on.

It's time to move on.

Be Assertive

Assertiveness to say NO.

Scenario 1:

Your client is asking you to take on more work than you can handle.

Program to run: Prioritize

Prompt: I will add it the the list of milestones. Please take not of the priority order.

Scenario 2:

A friend you haven't heard from in a long time asks you to donate to her child's school fundraiser. You're tapped out and have already given as much as your able to right now.

Program: Selective Ignorance

Rather than enter a course of conflict, you can ignore the request. If it's really important, they'll call you (but most won't). If you are confronted you can say something like "I'm sorry but I already donated by annual budget to a friend whose daughter was shot in Las Vegas (true story)."

Scenario 3: You're asked to volunteer

Program to run: Be Honest

Ask yourself: Is this the best use of your time? Is there really room for it in your life? Is this just the tip of the iceberg? How often does a 1 hour meeting turn into 4 hours of work? You need to look at your current list of projects. You can say 'I'd love to help but my bandwidth is tapped out and I don't commit to things unless I know I can give them 100%.'

Scenario 4: You don't agree with a decision

Program: Say Something

Be assertive, but not overly aggressive. Try to raise some questions the decision maker may not have considered. I understand that you decided to ____, but have you considered the ramifications of _____? Help them to 'play it out...' - to help them see the potential result they may have not considered. State your reasons. If you disagree you may want to state; I respect your decision, but I respectively disagree.


You offered to bring desert tonight. Your first thought was to go to the local donut shop. But given your commitment to health, can you bring fruit instead? Might everyone appreciate it? How many any of can resist the temptation of donuts?

In a polite, professional manner, it’s your responsibility to speak up when there’s something you disagree with or feel is not be in the best interest of the company. Assertive versus aggressive is the way to go. There’s nothing wrong with simply stating, “Jon, I disagree with the direction of the Smith project. I feel that it’s a duplicate effort for the three of us to be working on the same checklist. Wouldn’t our time be better served to split the duties and meet Thursday afternoon to follow up?” State your reasons in a professional manner. Communication in a respectful, non-confrontational manner is the key.

Saying No to client requests

Okay, I’ll get that done by the end of the day.”

Of course I’ll help you with that project.”

You need me to prep your meeting? No problem.”

Do any of those sound familiar? I used to say stuff like that on a daily basis when I had a corporate job.

It’s not that I had tons of time on my hands. I just couldn’t say no to my bosses and coworkers.

Let me rephrase that…

I didn’t know how to say no to them.

As a result, tasks and projects constantly got dumped onto my lap despite my already having a full plate.

I’m sure you can guess what happened…

I’ll bet you can relate. It’s a terrible way to spend the day.

So let’s quickly cover a few ways you can say “no” to taking on more work.

We’ll focus on doing so with respect and grace, but also with purpose and confidence. There’s no need to look like a jerk. But we also need to be resolute.

To be sure, it’s a balancing act. But it’s not impossible. In fact, it’s easier than you might think. Here are 3 ideas on how to do it effectively.

Use these three approaches to avoid becoming overwhelmed at work.

1 - Explain your current workload

Done incorrectly, this can come across as whining. But done properly, it tells others why you’re saying no and why it's a reasonable response.

People are often unaware of what you’re working on. That includes your boss. By explaining your workload, along with the consequences of taking on more work, you’ll help them understand the reason you must say no.

With your boss, you might even list your current projects and responsibilities and ask how you should reprioritize them given the additional work. That alone might be enough.

2 - Put your projects and time blocks on your calendar

Your coworkers and boss should be able to access your calendar. If they see it’s completely clear, they might wrongly assume you have the ability to take on more work.

So, put everything on your calendar.

If your team fails to check your calendar before approaching you, open it while they’re in front of you. Then share it person. A full calendar makes a compelling case for saying no to more work.

If you’re negotiating with your boss, a full calendar provides a great launch point to ask how you should reprioritize your responsibilities.

3 - Offer an alternative

It’s important to be flexible.

While you do want to maintain boundaries and give yourself ample time and space to focus on your own projects, you also want to help when you’re able to do so.

Offering an alternative helps you to do both.

For example, suppose a coworker asks you to help with a project. They want your help NOW. Open your calendar and offer to help when you have a clear time block next week.

You’re saying no, but still offering to help. You’re staying flexible rather than simply shutting him or her down.

A few years ago, author James Clear said…

“When you say no, you are only saying no to one option. When you say yes, you are saying no to every other option.”

That’s a smart way to look at it.

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