“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say NO to almost everything.”

~ Warren Buffet


It’s a compelling idea, yet for many people, saying NO is the same as uttering a four-letter word. It’s not always appreciated when you say it out loud.

One of the biggest barriers to progress that most of my clients and many many of my audience members complain about is lack of time…and how do you get more time? By saying NO more often.

It’s why Buffett’s quote resonates with me, because I think it’s less about never saying YES again, and more about becoming very discerning about the things that you say yes to.

If it’s not in your job description…

If it’s not helping you reach your personal or professional goals…

If saying yes will take you away from more important tasks…

If you’re simply saying YES because it’s easier than saying no

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, stop and consider every request for your time.

Think of the minutes in your day as inventory. Once you’ve sold a minute to one task it can’t be bought back. Every minute your give away to something that’s not in alignment with your goals and objectives drains you of energy, and slows your progress forward.  Tell me I’m wrong.

A few tactical Nos can free up hours of time that can be put towards tasks that truly matter to you.

So here are a few tips to help you say NO with confidence and professionalism:

1) Never…I mean never, ever respond to a request right in the moment.

Always ask for time to check your schedule. I call it the ’24-hour rule’ which gives you time to walk away and clearly determine whether the request is something you can commit to right now. 1 of 2 things will happen:

~ You’ll walk away and decide, “Yes, I really do want to take this on. I’ve got more to learn, more to offer, I can check my schedule, and check in with the spouse.” And then you can say YES with a clear conscience … and there’s nothing better than that.

~ Or you’ll discover, “This is the 5th thing I’ve committed to lately, I can’t remember what the other 4 are, my spouse and kids rarely see me, my dog has disowned me, and I haven’t seen my running shoes since 2001.”

And then you can say no with confidence.

2) Listen to your gut.

Our instincts are often pretty accurate if we give ourselves the chance to slow down, think, and pay attention to what our head and heart are telling us. It’s why stepping away is so important. I once rushed into a 2-year board commitment even though my gut told me it wasn’t the right time, it wasn’t the right fit, and my focus was needed elsewhere. I lasted 4 months before I admitted (humbly… to the board president and all the other board members) that I had made a mistake. GAH! If I’d only listened to my gut!

3) Sandwich your NO between 2 positives.

Make your NO more agreeable by surrounding it with positives. For example, let’s say a co-worker asks you to be a part of a conference planning committee. You put a smile on your face and say, “That sounds like an interesting idea.” When you lead with a positive your asker will ease up on the hard-sell (they think you’re going to say yes). And then you can explain your situation. “The challenge is that I have a number of project deadlines that need my attention right now.” (there’s your no). Then end the conversation by providing encouragement and support “I know you’ll find the right people for this. And please, keep me in mind for next time!” (another positive)

4) Ask for help in exchange for your YES.

If you want to say yes, but are restricted by other commitments or challenges, consider what your asker might do to help you. “I really want to help but I already said I’d volunteer on the social committee. Maybe you can help there so I can do this for you?” This simple request will help the asker understand the impact of the request, and potentially reconsider. Sometimes, you may actually get back more than you give up.

5) Say YES to the Asker and NO to the Ask.

We often say yes because we like the people who ask. And that’s rarely the best reason for giving up our time. When you deliver your no, make sure the asker knows how you feel about them even if you can’t say yes to their request. “You know I think you’re awesome, and I would help in a heart beat if I could, but I’m on a deadline and all my focus is needed for that project right now.”  This approach helps the asker realize your NO is not about them, and it may help ease your guilt just a bit.

6) Hold your Ground

Despite your best efforts at getting to know NO, some people will keep asking even after you’ve told them you can’t help. That’s not okay, and you shouldn’t feel bad about setting healthy but firm boundaries when this happens. Their goal is to wear you down, so you need to let them know that you’re not going to change your mind. Their urgency is not your emergency. “I get that you’re in a bind but I’ve told you I’m unavailable. I’m sure you’ll get the help if you just keep asking.”

It’s okay to say no.

Setting healthy boundaries doesn’t mean you need to own the title of office meanie, and it’s certainly not a sign of weakness or apathy. In fact, good leaders aren’t afraid to say no to tasks that aren’t a fit, and they usually get respect for doing it.

Good leaders aren’t afraid to say no to tasks that aren’t a fit, and they usually get respect for doing it.

Learn to say NO with confidence and professionalism. It’s good for you and it’s good for your business!

Watch the video, comment, share… and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode! Until next time, I’m Michelle Cederberg helping you transform your work and your life, one NO and one recharge at a time.

Michelle Cederberg, MKin, BA Psyc
Certified Speaking Professional (CSP)
Certified Exercise Physiologist (CEP)
Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC)
ORSC Trained Team Coach

Live Energetically ~ Do Work You Love ~ Get the Most Out of Life

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