The art of saying no

By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

This is I think the best book on turning down requests from people so that we can say yes to better things.  “The Art of Saying No:  How to Stand Your Ground, Reclaim Your Time and Energy, and Refuse to Be Taken For Granted (Without Feeling Guilty!)” by Damon Zahariades will help us be more productive by saying “no” in a polite and non-angering manner.  If you respectfully say “no” to a one‐hour meeting, you magically create an hour to get your work done. If you respectfully say “no” to a friend who wants to go out on a Saturday, you can spend time with your family and recharge for the week ahead.

Why is it hard to say “no” to people?  Because we have been conditioned to say “yes”.  The author enumerates past instances that makes us say yes:  As kids, we said “no” to our parents and teachers and received negative feedback, so we said “yes” more often. In school, we made friends by saying “yes” to requests to play and hang out. When we started our careers, we said “yes” to every opportunity in the hopes of getting ahead.  As we grow old, we believe that prioritizing our interests and saying “no” to a friend or coworker is selfish and will damage relationships.

Why is it important to say “no” sometimes?  If you say yes to anyone and everything, you’ll have “no” time to focus on your needs, be overwhelmed, stressed, exhausted, and feel bitter and resentful towards the people taking up your time. What good are you to others if you’re stressed, exhausted, bitter, and resentful? If you say “no” to people so you can take care of your needs and fill your emotional tank, you will have a greater capacity to help people.  We value things that are hard to attain, so if your friends and coworkers know you do not freely give away your time, they will appreciate your time more than if you simply said “yes” to every request.  Remember that every time you say “yes,” you say “no” to something you value which are the 3P’s:  people, project, and personal wellbeing.  People might be family members you are supposed to spend time with.  Project are things you are passionate about that if you don’t complete it, you will be very disappointed or be answerable to someone.  And personal wellbeing means imagining seeing yourself a week from now, burnt out and exhausted because you said “no” to the activities that would help you recharge, recover, and relax.

The 3C’s to remember so you can say “no” without angering people:  Categorical No’s, Commitment, and Counteroffer.

Categorical No’s

When you give someone a categorical “no” by saying, “I’ve stopped,” or, “I don’t,” or, “I have a rule,” you make your “no” seem like an objective fact and not a personal rejection such as: “Sorry, I don’t drink on weekdays.” “I only do interviews on Fridays.” “I’m not accepting new proposals at this time.


When you say “no” by referencing a commitment, people are generally understanding and rarely push back. No one likes to break commitments, so people do not want to pressure you into breaking your commitments. Here are a few ways to reference a commitment and respectfully say “no”:  “I’m fully committed to a project right now, so I need to turn down your request.” “I’ve committed to spend time with my family this weekend.” “I can’t join you for lunch. I’ve made a commitment to go to the gym every day at lunch.” At the beginning of each week, write down a list of personal and professional commitments you can deploy when someone asks for your time.


Instead of saying “no” to someone’s request, especially someone whose relationship you value greatly, say “no” to their initial request and counter with a smaller offer such as “I’m unable to do that at this time, but I can put you in touch with someone who can help.” “I don’t have time to do A, B, and C, but I’d be happy to help you with one of those tasks.” “I’m over‐committed and unable to attend your meeting, but I’d be happy to email you a few ideas you can

share in the meeting.”