3 ways to make it easier to say no

The phrase Get More Done on a blackboard with a clock

When I was getting my Ph.D., I knew a professor who said no to a lot of things. It was a bit awkward to be on the receiving end of his no, but that wasn’t his concern. When most other people would have said, “Yes,” he simply said, “No.” And that was it.

I soon realized it was no coincidence that he produced countless articles, received numerous grants, and won major awards in his field. He knew that saying yes to the wrong things would take him away from his goals.

Answer this very important question for yourself: Do I have a hard time saying no to people or things?

Saying yes — or the inability to say no — comes from a variety of places:

  • You say yes to the wrong things in order to avoid something you’re afraid of or don’t want to face, like a difficult project or unpleasant task. You later use this distraction as an excuse for not facing your task head on.
  • You grew up in a family, school, community, or church that valued saying yes to anyone who needed your help. To say no, then, might mean you’re not honoring the values instilled in you growing up and can often result in feelings of guilt.
  • You want to be liked, accepted, and part of the tribe. You don’t want to come across as less than friendly. If you say no, you may be ostracized or exiled. You may be rejected and left alone.
  • You don’t have clear priorities and goals or a plan to reach them. When you don’t have a plan to get to a desired goal or outcome, it’s much easier to say yes to anything that comes along.


How does it feel at the end of the day to have given your time and energy away to people and things and you’ve done nothing for yourself? You may begin to resent it, which then may affect so many other things in your life.

Saying no is far easier when you have something important to say yes to.

1. Understand the Nature of the Beast

Do you know who you can say no to and who’s a priority? If you say yes to everyone, then no one’s a priority and you’ll allow anyone and everyone take your time. Can you push most people, phone calls, and emails into your non-prime time and stay focused on your most important tasks?

2. Think in Advance

Most of us will allow interruptions if we have to decide at the moment of the interruption whether to allow it or not. Think in advance what you would say and how you would say it if someone wants your time. If you aren’t sure how to do it, consult with a friend or colleague who’s good at it.

3. Know Where You’re Going

Successful people who get what they want are usually very good about knowing where they’re going. They set themselves up for success by understanding their goals, why they’re going after those goals, and the road ahead. Knowing where you’re going reduces the temptation of saying yes when you really need to say no.

It’s so important to know what you believe and value, what your goals and priorities are, and developing a plan for your life. Otherwise, without the conviction of your path, you’ll give your time away easily and often.

Get the Nerve!

About Joe Serio

Dr. Joe Serio is a keynote speaker, trainer, and author who helps the people in your organization navigate resistance to change so they can move forward successfully.

Leave a Reply

* 8+2=?