No is a Complete Sentence

Dr. Mia Cary, CEO & Change Agent, Cary Consulting

Yes is an easy response to many requests and in some situations will be the perfect answer. No, however, can often feel more challenging. We do not want to disappoint others and we may be afraid of what might be missed if we do not accept what is being offered.

The following steps will provide guidance on how and when to say no. And remember, no is indeed a complete sentence.

  1. Know your purpose and prioritiesDo you have a written personal purpose statement?  If so, you know its value in helping to prioritize.  If you don’t have one or have not revisited yours in a while, perhaps it is time to do so.
  2. Be firm, direct, confident, and courteous. Remember that saying yes to one opportunity means saying no to another.  We cannot say anything yes to everything. #makegoodchoices
  3. Speak with radical candor and communicate early. As Kim Scott’s radical candor model shows us, speaking directly and caring personally will take our communication effectiveness to a new level.
  4. Explain what you can do. If you are not able to say yes to a request, is there a related activity or task that does align with your purpose and priorities?
  5. Redirect to other resources. Who else might be extremely excited to take on an opportunity that you must decline?  Be a connector, be an ally, and make introductions!
  6. Set boundaries. From blocking time on calendars and blocking vacation days to saying yes to only those opportunities that align with your personal purpose, get ahead of incoming requests by knowing and documenting your boundaries.
  7. Put the question back on the person asking. If you are unsure if you want to say yes or no, ask for more information.
    • What will success look like to you in six months if we move forward together today?
    • What are your short-term and long-term goals related to this opportunity?
    • What is the potential impact of this opportunity to your bottom-line?
    • What is the potential impact of not implementing this project?
    • Why is this a project you want to focus on today?
  8. Pause and reflect – is your oxygen mask firmly in place? What the flight attendants tell us is true.  If there is an emergency while in flight, we are instructed to put the oxygen mask that drops down on ourselves first, before we try to help our travel companion or whoever is occupying the seat next to us.  Why?  Because we are better equipped to help others when we take care of ourselves first. This is practicing self-care.  As with everything, this is easier to own on the good days.  And yet, even more important on the days that aren’t so good.  Decision making is also impacted by how fueled up, recharged, and grounded we are. The more firm the foundation, the better the decisions we make.

If you are ready to say no and would like additional approaches to declining, this resource is for you: 100+ Ways To Say No.


7 Ways to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

Inc. Saying No


Purpose is Power

Radical Candor

Really Successful People Say No to Everything

The Gentle Art of Saying No

blue narwhal on yellow background saying "stop saying yes when you mean no"