Photo Credit: Kai Pilger,
Photo Credit: Kai Pilger,

When you think about saying “no” to someone, what comes to mind?

Perhaps someone offering you extra dessert when you’re full. A job opportunity in a field that you want to move away from. An invitation to hang out with friends who don’t bring the best out of you anymore.

There are so many reasons why we may want to say no; yet, how often do we actually say it?

Why don’t we say “no” at times when we really want to? Often this is because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. We want to be polite. We want to be perceived as always “open” or “willing.”

But what does it cost you to always say “yes” and always be “agreeable?”

Often it costs you time, your focus, and to some extent, your purpose. Because when that voice inside of you says, “I really don’t want to say ‘yes’ but I will because X, Y, or Z,” that voice is a signpost of what you actually value. The reason you don’t want to say yes is that the situation infringes on what’s important to you. And this is helpful because you can use this information to learn more about what you VALUE and find important.

Saying “no” is something that the top performers of our time have mastered, not shirked. They have their sights set on a goal. This goal’s in alignment with their purpose and their values – and they know this because they want to execute their goal.

So how can you say no and still keep the peace?

I was inspired to write this post from a podcast episode on The Tim Ferris Show called How to Say No.

In the episode he shares rejection letters that he received from top performers who declined to partner with him on his new book, Tribe of Mentors. Tim reflected on the rejection letters and noticed these common traits:

  • The people who said “no” briefly explained the boundaries or priorities they placed on themselves that influenced the decision. Some examples of these boundaries included, “I’ve committed to finishing all of my active projects before starting another one,” or “I’ve lost touch with my creativity by committing to too much. I’m taking this week/month/year to cut out as many commitments as possible.”
  • When you get clear on your values, you can create priorities or boundaries that enable you to act in alignment with those values.
  • The people who said “no” acknowledged the value of the request. The request is important to the person asking…or else they wouldn’t have asked you about it! Acknowledge that it’s important to the requester and share, truthfully, any confidence that you have in the project or well wishes.
  • The person who said “no” actually said “no.” They didn’t say “maybe,” “possibly,” or “how about next week/month/year?”
  • (Optional) The person who said “no” gave recommendations of other people to ask who could satisfy the request.

Crossing T.E.A.’s

Let’s go below and above these Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions:

Going Below the T.E.A. – Saying Yes when you want to say No

  • Thought: I need to say yes so that “they” won’t get mad at me.
  • Emotion: I feel guilty
  • Action: I sacrifice my boundaries, priorities, and values

Going Above the T.E.A. – Saying No when you want to say No

  • Thought: I honor my time and my values. I honor my truth and I release responsibility for other people’s emotions.
  • Emotion: I feel balanced
  • Action: I choose when to say “no” and I back that up with the state of my priorities, boundaries, and values.

“The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes”

Tony Blair