Seven Tips For Saying "No"

If you desperately need the approval of others, you’ll never have their respect.

It’s true. Some people desperately need the approval of others. They want everyone to like them. And so they do whatever they can to “please” the other people around them.

These approval-seekers are often saddled with an unrealistic definition of caring. They think that caring, being “nice,” means having to meet everyone’s needs. So they’re constantly doing favors, lending money, running errands, and solving problems others have created for themselves.

It’s a sad way to live. If you try to “please” everybody or “help” everybody, it’s going to cost you a lot of time, money, and energy. And you’ll end up with a reservoir of resentment. You’ll wonder why you always have to be the one to help out.

There are times you simply have to say “no.” If you don’t say “no,” or can’t say “no,” you’ll never have a lasting self-esteem, and you’ll never have the respect of others. And you don’t need that.

What you need is a little more control over your life, your time, and your career. And saying “no” will help. In fact, sometimes you just got to say “no” for your own good.

It’s one of the skills I teach in my program entitled “COOPERATION AND CONFLICT: Working Together Instead of Coming Apart.” It’s a great program filled with lots of simple, powerful skills that will make an immediate difference.


I think there are three times you could and should say “no.” First, say “no” when the person doing the asking isn’t that important to you — and some people aren’t that important. It may be the stranger in the grocery check-out line, the stranger with a full cart that asks if he can move in front of you. If you’re already late for an appointment, say “no.” You don’t have to meet everyone’s needs.

Second, say “no” when an important personal principle is at stake. You may not believe in gossiping, for example, but you may have some colleagues who keep on gossiping about another colleague. When they ask you to join in their gossip session, to share what you’ve heard, say, “No, I’ll have to pass. I’m not comfortable talking about someone who’s not here.”

Third, say “no” to people that matter to you — when the issue is relatively trivial. It may be the friend who invites you to a party when you feel like staying home. Or it may be your team member who asks you to work late on a non-critical project — when you already have other plans. Say “no.”

Of course, there’s a right and a wrong way to say “no.” I would suggest these guidelines.


Avoid sarcasm or a ridiculing tone of voice. You may get your way, but you’ll generate an awful lot of unnecessary hostility.

When someone asks you to do something that he should be doing for himself, don’t say, in a snotty tone, “I don’t have time to do YOUR chores.” Instead, simply say, with calmness and firmness, “No, I’m not willing to do that.”


Some people try to “weasel out” of another person’s request by claiming extenuating circumstances beyond their control. They’ll say something like, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t.”

If it’s a lie, it’s a lie. It may sound nice and polite, but it’s still a lie. If you get invited to a party or a meeting you don’t want to attend, don’t say you can’t make it — if indeed you can. Just be honest and say, “No thanks. I’d rather not.”


Some people avoid the word “no” by saying, “Yes, I’ll do it,” but never get around to doing it. They’re big on talk but short on action.

It’s like the boss who says, “I’ll get back to you,” and never does. Or it’s like the husband that says, “Yeah, I’ll fix that light,” but never does. They’re saying what the other person wants to hear, and they’re avoiding the discomfort of saying “no,” but they’re also destroying the trust in the relationship. That’s a pretty stupid trade-off.

To take charge of your life and career, you may need to say “no” a bit more often. But you need to believe and say the right things to be effective. I would suggest the following.


If you can’t buy into this belief, you won’t assert yourself when you need to. You must believe it is okay to say “no,” that it is the right, good, and fair thing to say on various occasions.


If you skip the word “no,” if you say anything else, the other person hears “maybe.” And don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can get by with a nice, logical explanation. A good salesperson or a crafty manipulator will have a comeback for every explanation you give. You’ve got to say the word “no” right up front.


Don’t sound as if you’re hesitating when you say “no.” Don’t look up, as though you’re seeking help from a heavenly source. And don’t look down, as though you want to crawl in a hole. If you use any of those kinds of nonverbal signals, you’re telling the other person that he has a chance at breaking down your resistance.


Unlike an excuse, an explanation makes it clear that you are saying “no.” You’re taking responsibility. You’re choosing to say “no.”

And as you give your explanation, keep it short. If you talk on and on, explaining why you “can’t” do what the other person wants, the better chance he/she has of finding a loophole in your comments.

It’s never easy to turn down someone else’s request — but sometimes you’ve just got to do it. If you don’t, you’re going to feel overwhelmed, overworked, and overextended. To take greater control of your life, start by using the most powerful two-letter word in the dictionary. Say “no” once in a while.

Action:  Think of three situations where you say “yes” when you really want to say “no.” Write out an appropriate “no” response for each of those situations. Practice your response in front of a mirror so you’re ready to say “no” the next time those situations arise.