Saying No More Often

I’ve previously discussed the importance of keeping wants in parallel with needs. With a constant barrage of needs in our lives, it might be difficult to perceive how one could bring our wants up to par. Instead, what if we could reduce our needs? What if, to one thing today, you had said no?

What No is and What it Should be

Most of us shrink when reading that last sentence. We’ve been conformed to believe the word is negative, forbidden, and frowned upon. I want to change it to be empowering, taking back control, and committing to your well-being. When you tell someone no you’re prohibiting an action or call to action. Yet, when a request comes to us, despite our internal desires to say no we say yes. Later confiding to others that “This is dumb, I don’t have the time and I don’t want to do it.” What then, drives our almost immediate inclination to agree?

Against our will, fear can drive our unsolicited affirmation. Afraid of how others would react. To be seen as incompetent or not a team player. We can feel guilty. That after saying no, you’ve let them down, that they’ll think less of you. These dark thoughts limit our courage to say no even when we’re fully aware we can’t commit wholly. In the end, when we say yes but mean no, we’re inhibiting ourselves to Show Up. As counter-intuitive as that sounds here’s how: saying yes when we mean no means we’ve relinquished control of our actions, allowing them to be dictated by others. That loss of control leads to stress and anxiety and anxiety consumes energy. Without energy, we don’t do things we want to do. Without doing the things we want to do, we can’t Show Up to things we need to do.

How Do We Say It?

There’s two things I’ve learned that build up my courage to say no. The most important is that declining cannot stand alone. It requires definition and reasoning. Why are you saying no? If speaking honestly, and your reasons are how you feel, it’s tough for someone to judge in the ways we’re so fearful about. The second is that yes and no don’t have to be the only answers.

One for Family

When someone requests something of us, they’re usually not aware of other time commitments or wants and so that responsibility falls to us to communicate. This gives perspective on how their request might fit into your grander plan. A request should not be a one way transfer of information. They require negotiation, compromise, and understanding. Similar to my logo with arrows facing each other, people can come together in the same way. My wife and I are consistently asking “What are you going to do?” At face value a harmless inquiry but it’s much more. What we’re really saying is “I want to open the floor for conversation on our individual wants and needs.” Now, eighty-percent of the time it’s met with “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” because we’d both rather bend a little for the other. Love right? Other times the conversation goes something like this where my wife might start by asking…


What are you doing to do today?
I was wanting to read for a little, then I need to mow the lawn, and after I’d like to play video games.
That’s a good plan, do you think we could put up curtains today?
Hmm, does it need to be done today?
No, tomorrow is fine too, I wanted to get them up before Monday.
Ok, let’s do it tomorrow morning.

Before out rightly making her request, she wanted to know where I stood. It’s a fantastic toe dip into in any conversation. Showing that you’re curious by asking open-ended questions shows you care and want the full download. Charging right into a demand creates a sense of urgency which could lead to a yes but means no – not beneficial to either party. Outside of emergencies, it’s worth the extra time to use gauging questions like “What’s on your mind?” or “What do you have to do today?

When asked to put up curtains my internal rebuttal was no. Still, I remained curious myself and I felt I needed more information. My wife then divulged that it didn’t have to be till Monday in which I agreed to. Referring back to my two courage building techniques, after I gave her the run-down of the day she was able to infer that video games after mowing is my time to recharge. This was my why. I didn’t have to be explicit since she was able to read between the lines. We’re married and we can do that. Remember, without doing our wants, we can’t Show Up fully to our needs. Second, I never said the word no. Here there was a third option of later.

Two for Work

The next example is in a professional setting. Knowing that the relationship isn’t a marriage, we can’t leave anything to chance and must be more direct.

It’s our responsibility to communicate our wants and needs.


Hey Nick, I sent you an email for some information the executives need. Do you think you could compile and have it by today?
Maybe. I read the email and I need some clarifications. Are we wanting to see it by geographical region or by warehouse?
By region.
Region will take about two hours, I’m not sure I could get it done today. Here’s what on my list for this afternoon: Need A, Need B, Want A. I at least want to keep Want A to keep making progress on that longer-term project but I also think both Need A and B are more time-sensitive. Other departments are relying on one and the other our entire team utilizes heavily in getting their weekly word completed.
I agree. Could we have it by tomorrow at noon?
That would work much better.

To start with, what they could have done better is by asking a gauging question instead of straight to business. What if I wasn’t feeling well that afternoon? What if a family matter had come up? After learning more of where someone stands, they may opt to not even make the request. Since this didn’t happen, I had to insert my wants and needs myself. In the same breath, I stated my why for each along with my preliminary no.



This could have gone a different way. Since I was speaking with my direct manager, I left open the opportunity to shift around the needs if they felt the new request was of higher importance. If so, our conversation would have been longer discussing which of the two needs, or both, would be delayed all while protecting my want. This scratches the surface of cultures where executive’s requests are somehow the most important, drop everything, do it now fire drill but in reality disrupt multiple people and their work and inevitably suck up more time than anything else but I digress.

Three for Us

At this point you might be thinking ‘Hold up, both these situations in the end you ended up agreeing to the request. What about when it comes to saying no altogether? No compromising to be had.’ I will say it was easier to use those actual examples to break down the individual parts and expand on differences between environments. Respectfully saying no doesn’t come with flair and will be our last example.

Hey Nick, did you want to go to brunch with us on Sunday?
Where you going?
*Insert restaurant where the food is not great and the only reason you’d go is for mimosas*
No, I’ll pass. I want to stay home and get some reading done.

I Can’t, My Llama Needs a Bath

When it comes to giving your No a why, make it the truth. People will eventually see through lies. Once they do, they fabricate their own truth. If your fifth-time excuse to not attend game night is we’ll be putting the two-year old down which takes two hours, they might begin believing you don’t want to spend any time with them or you’re holding a grudge. Worse yet, maybe aren’t as good of friends like they thought. I’m not a parent yet but I know baby sitters exists.

Countless times I’ve declined invitations to “go out” because truthfully, I had plans to play my new video game that night. I used to be afraid of the judgement that would come from it but I realized people think quite the opposite. I get responses from “I respect that” to “What game is it?” to “I’m jealous, I’d rather binge watch that new show on Netflix than go but my other friend is dragging me.” Don’t allow your actions to be dictated by others. My true friends have learned that if they want me to attend an event, I need adequate time to mentally prepare. As an introvert, depending on the intensity, social interactions lean more towards a need than a want. I have to plan time to get my wants up to par.

The idea of saying No is taking control of your day. If you have a plan, own it. Not to say you can’t be flexible, the first examples showed you can be and still say no with grace and professionalism. Define your no with supporting information and stick to the truth. Turn no into not today, maybe, or next time. Please though, if it is next time make sure you mean it and you can commit!

Lastly, if you do in fact own a Llama, I’d like to know if you’ve ever used that as a valid reason!

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