018 - Gain More Control - 5 Ways to Say No



  • Why being busy is good and bad
  • What being overly committed costs you and others
  • Exercise more control over requests that come to you
    • Thank you and divert
    • Let me check my calendar
    • The awkward pause
    • Don't let their urgency become your problem
    • Maybe later
    • Help me re-prioritisie my list
  • Many seniors don't fully appreciate what it takes to complete the request
  • There is always more you can do than you have time for.


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"How's your week going so far?" Whenever I ask people this question I invariably get a version of this reply: "Oh, really busy!"

It has become the default response of our modern age, worn as a badge of honour as if being busy was the ideal state to be in.  But is it?

When you stop and think about it, you know the answer is no. Sure, being busy at times is inevitable because life and work throw things at you at pace. In fact, it can be kind of fun being really busy for periods of time — the adrenaline rush feels good, it feels like we're wanted, productive, somehow doing what you ought to.

But as a longer term pattern being busy all the time costs you. It costs you your energy, focus and clarity. Sadly, it can cost you your health and relationships too.

The Two Sides of Success

It seems to me that our success has as much to do with what we say 'no' to as it does with what we say 'yes' to. In fact, I believe it has mostly to do with what we say no to.

Saying no means you're exercising choice as to what's important to you. It shows you're being selective about what you'll invest your time and energy into. It means you're making a statement about what's most important. Isn't that another way of saying you're being wise?

Our success has as much to do with what we say 'no' to as it does with what we say 'yes' to.

Here are five ways of saying "No" and thus exercising control over requests and opportunities:

1. Thanks and divert. 

It's good form to at least acknowledge that the person thought of you in the first place. So starting with thanks works well to maintain the relationship. Then saying no clearly and simply. And then divert their request to someone who might be able to help them.

Example: "Oh Sheryl thanks for asking but unfortunately, no. I'm not free to take that on right now. Have you considered asking Mike, because he has the skills you need for something like this."

2. Let me check my calendar and get back to you. 

Essentially, you buy some time. This takes the pressure off the moment and moves the response to a different time even if it's in a few minutes. It works best when you don't check your calendar right there and then!

You might simply say, "Thanks Terry. I'm in the middle of something. Can I just check my schedule and come back to you?"

Give yourself some time to think about the request and decide if it's something you'll take on. If not, you can simply respond with, "Terry, thanks for asking but considering my priorities at present I've decided I can't take that on. Cheers, Rob."

3. Use the awkward pause. 

Rather than fill the gap with words, use the gap to convey that it's not going to work for you. Add to this a facial expression that looks like you're really unsure, and then when you say,

"Gosh, Petra, thanks for asking but......no, I'm sorry" it will all work together to convey the right impression.

If the asker doesn't take no first time, add another strategy.

4. Maybe later. 

Often people ask you to get involved in something because it's their urgency, not yours. Don't let their urgency become your problem. 

Don't let their urgency become your problem.

If you don't want to say yes, then say no. However, if it's a possibility for you, but just not right now, you can suggest,

"Steve, I want to stay really focused on getting this article written in time. So I can't right now, but maybe later?"

Clarify with them what their timeframe is.

5. OK, well what should I stop focusing on? 

This is useful for work situations where your boss asks you to do yet another task on top of a whole lot of existing ones. Don't just add it to the pile, swap something out. 

Don't just add it to the pile, swap something out. 

Involving them in the re-prioritisation will help them see the potential overload.

Ask, "OK, well I've got a lot on at present. What do you think I should take off the list?" and they might even say, "Oh, well...don't worry about it just yet." Or, they might say, "This one needs to go to the top of the list so maybe pause the process review for now."

There is always much more that you can do at any one time than what you ought to do.

Exercise your selection and decision-making skills by saying no to what is not essential at present.

The world will not stop turning, and you'll feel a whole lot better.

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