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How to say NO – the ultimate guide for busy managers

Reading Time: 3 minutes

7 different ways of knocking stuff back with style and conviction.


Most people find it difficult to say NO when asked to do something. Somewhere along the line, for any number of reasons, they have become conditioned to do what others ask. It is, however, a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments. You simply spread yourself too thin and won’t get anything done on time – or at all. Especially in business, you constantly get requests for your time; via phone, email or in person. If you want to stay productive and minimise stress, you need to recognise the power of and learn the art of Saying NO.

The solution to effective self-management is actually quite simple. You need to be able to prioritise and say NO to the things less important than others. We all have 24 hours a day, so if you say YES to something, what do you have to say NO to?

For a very long time I used to say YES to everything. I was literally ‘Yes Man’ as played by Jim Carrey. I carr(ey)ed the belief that saying NO was rude and impolite. It took me years to realise that I said yes to everything because I wanted to be liked and appreciated by everyone. However, even though I constantly said yes, I still didn’t quite accomplish that!

As you can imagine, this led to frustration, disappointment and taking on additional work from lazy people unloading their unwanted tasks. I tried to earn other’s trust in a highly unresourceful way; everybody knew I got things done on time but their respect for me was going down the drain. I had no backbone, couldn’t say YES to myself and subsequently couldn’t say NO to others. In hindsight, I am very thankful that this personal strategy didn’t pay off long-term - otherwise I would still be running around trying to please everybody but myself…


But why is it so hard to say NO? Firstly, as mentioned above, we all carry the fear of being rejected; after all, it could hurt, anger or disappoint the other person if we are saying NO. Secondly, especially in business, there is a prospect of working with that specific person in the future, and the want/need of maintaining good rapport. Saying NO in the wrong way could jeopardise this very same working relationship.

So, here are the 7 ways to say NO with style and conviction:

1  Value your time

Know your commitments and how valuable your precious time is.


2  Know your priorities

Even if you do have a little time at hand, is this new commitment really how you want to use that time?


3  Practice makes perfect

Saying NO often is a good way at getting better at it. If somebody is persisting, keep saying NO. They will eventually get the message.


4  No apologies and being nice

It might be polite but gives the impression of weakness. Be firm and unapologetic about guarding your time.


5  Say NO to your manager

It is not a way of saying that you cannot handle the work. It is a way of explaining to your manager that you do not want to jeopardise your existing commitments. If the manager insists, ask him/her to re-prioritise.


6  I’ll let you know

This is a good way of telling the other person that you will give it some thought and to get back to them. You can then say: “After giving it some thought and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate your request at this time.”


7  Not the right fit

The project or task might be a good one, but just not for you right now. Be honest (and sincere) about it and let the other person know.


“I encourage people to remember that NO is a complete sentence.”
~ Gavin de Becker


We often forget that we are allowed to say NO. You do not need to explain yourself, you can just say no. Doing so will over time expand your ability to say YES and really mean it. At the beginning, your attempts at saying NO might be far from graceful and not as convincing as you would like, but with practice this will improve, and you will enjoy the knowledge that the effort is well intended.


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