• Toby Sinclair

5 Ways to Say No



One of the biggest challenges leaders face is saying No. Saying Yes can be easy but saying no fills most people with dread!


The very thought of saying no literally brings most people physical discomfort.


Leaders have good reasons to fear saying no. We worry we’ll miss out on a great opportunity. We’re scared of rocking the boat, stirring things up, burning bridges. We can’t bear the thought of disappointing customers and management. None of this makes you a bad person. It’s a natural part of being human.


Saying Yes can be best described as a bad habit for many people. It's common for people to say yes automatically, without thinking, often in pursuit of the rush one gets from having pleased someone.


Saying No becomes easier when you have clarity of what's important to you. But even then, saying No can still be hard.


For many, the automatic rush to say Yes is a bad habit. It can lead you to be overworked, stressed and lose sight of what's important.


To help change your Yes Habit, here are 5 easy alternatives.


The awkward pause.


A short pause gives the other person a moment to think about their request. It's very common that with this pause the person will rethink their request. They may withdraw it or at the very least be clearer with their request. It helps avoid you getting into a vague commitment.


“Let me check my schedule and get back to you.”


It can often feel like you need to say yes now. This simple option can help buy you time to review your priorities and schedule. The risk to avoid with this response is the other person assumes it is a yes. Do be very clear that you are not committing at this point but will come back to them.


Use e-mail automatic replies.


Many requests will arrive via email from customers and managers. You can build an automated response to be clear with the requestor about your protocols. This saves you time responding to all your emails and also provides an immediate response. It also takes the emotion out of the response since it's automated.


Tim Ferriss shares his tips in The 4-Hour Work Week for autoresponders.


Tim Ferris Auto Responder

Say, “Yes. What should I deprioritise?”


When a request aligns with what's most important for you this can be a great response. It makes people aware of your current priorities and involves them in the decision making process. It's especially helpful for conversations with managers, customers and stakeholders.


“I can’t do it, but X might be interested.”


The final way to say no is to signpost to someone who might be interested. This can be especially helpful if there are people in your network who could benefit from the request. For example, if you are invited to attend a workshop, you could give someone in your team an opportunity to attend on your behalf. This helps build skills across the team. If you use this response, be sure to do a warm handover with the person you are connecting with.



Focusing on what's important to you is explored further in Essentialism by Greg Mckeown.