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Being a Pro At Saying “No”

One of the simplest — yet hardest — ways to enjoy work and get more fulfillment in life is learning how to say “no.”

But the demands on your time, combined with the sense of responsibility you feel for your customers, team members, and family might often compel you to say “yes” to every request and stretch yourself thin as you attempt to support everyone well.

In this episode of the One Next Step Podcast, Lisa Zeeveld and I talk about how leaders can say “no” — and, in some cases, “not now” — to opportunities, projects, meetings, and even your internal desire to stay involved. 

That way, you’ll have more margin for your most important priorities and responsibilities only you can do.


Here are some takeaways we shared:


1. “No” is a complete sentence.

Simply saying no is enough. We take on things that we shouldn't because we feel like we must. You don’t have to explain yourself or go into great detail about all the reasons it isn’t going to work.

You can still be grateful and thank the person for the invite or opportunity while simply saying you can’t do what they’re asking right now. Saying “yes” to everything — or even trying to explain your “no” all the time — can be exhausting. 

Anybody can say "yes," but it takes skill to learn to say "no." Good leaders have learned that by simply saying “no” to the wrong things, they can say “yes” to the right things.


2. Your “no” is someone else’s “yes.”

Think about it. As a leader, you’ve done lots of hands-on tasks over the years. 

If you’re still doing what you’ve always been doing, you’re not allowing someone else to step up and grow in their role. Instead of taking on more projects, consider elevating someone else and giving them the tasks.


If you can’t make dinner tonight, ask your son if he’s up for it. If you simply can’t make that meeting or start on a project, you know the people who are capable of doing the job just fine. 

Get them involved and give the gift of opportunity to others.


3. Review your priorities every month.

Take some time each month to look back at the past month and determine if you said “yes” to the right things. You offer so much value, and you need to be picky about where you invest your time.

Pause. Instead of saying "yes" immediately, ask if you can think about it and get back to them. That will give you some flexibility to review your schedule and priorities first so that you can respond with an informed, enthusiastic "yes."

Did your family get the best of you, or were you worn by ragged by the time you got home from taking on too much? Did your team get the best of your leadership, or were you so tied up in meetings that they hardly knew you were around?

Adjust your priorities each month and make sure you are taking on the right things.


We’ve developed several responses to common requests we receive. From speaking engagements to interviews, these canned email responses will help you put your best “no” forward with confidence.

Simply copy and paste them into an email or edit them to make them your own.