5 Ways to Say 'No' and Feel Good About It

Written by
Pavla Grigarova
Published on
August 13, 2023

Don’t take me wrong. I love being a “Yes Person”. I consider myself very open minded, I enjoy trying new things and in general always keeping an eye open for new opportunities. To experiment, to learn, to grow. And especially because of that, I know how important it is to be able to say no. You might be surprised but it can feel really good too.

At the beginning of the year we come to the office with fresh energy and also new expectations whether it’s to enter the new year with a clear focus, a zero inbox or simply a resolution to stress less and enjoy more. Yet somehow the new requests, tasks and asks for a favor are already starting to pile up. And the process begins all over again. I don’t have any spare time but this shouldn’t take too long and that comes from a good friend of mine. Oh and this is something I really enjoy doing, maybe I can stay longer today and finish over the weekend. There are many reasons why we justify saying yes, even though it means we regret it later. As Brené Brown pointed out, it’s often really caused by the fear of letting other people down and it requires daring greatly to put yourself first.  


Here are 5 tips how to say no a feel good about it:

1. Be positive

It’s totally ok to say no. It matters how you say it. Appreciate the person thinking of you, choosing you to help them with their project, considering you to be the expert. And it doesn’t have to be dishonest. You can still find the task interesting and decline because of other circumstances. 

2. Explain the impact

You don’t have to go into too much detail but provide a bit of context. Show that you know your priorities and what the impact of you working on the new thing would mean for your current projects. Claim firmly that it doesn’t mean you will simply add it on your do to list. Maybe it will cause you to miss an important deadline or not be able to give both your full attention. Especially if this comes from your manager, I am sure they will appreciate you having things under control and help you reprioritize if needed. 

3. Gain time

Often requests seem urgent but there are actually two ways you can gain time. If you are not sure how much time a specific task will require, don’t feel pressured to commit to it right away. Respond but don’t promise anything yet. Instead, explain that you e.g. need to consult it with someone and suggest when you can get back to them. Even if you decline later, the other person will know that you really considered it. The other option is to double check the deadline. Maybe you don’t have time today / this week / this month. Could it wait or is it better if someone else does it?

4. Negotiate

As in any negotiation, find out how and why this request is important. Is this an VIP client or partner, will your work have an impact in a larger context and how much added value will it bring? Or was it forwarded you out of curiosity, just in case it was really easy and a quick thing for you to do? And if it’s really that important, can you maybe ask for something in return? Maybe there’s an extra budget and you could get external help, maybe someone else can pick up some of your regular tasks to free up some of your time. Remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

5. Present an alternative

Sometimes there are not just the obvious yes and no answers and you can still help someone using a bit of your creativity. Unfortunately you don’t have the capacity yourself but there might be someone else you could recommend for the job. Or you can share guidance on how the other person can solve it themselves. Even though it’s not so straightforward, it shows that you care and if you could, you would do it yourself. This time an alternative will have to be enough. 

Last but not least, if you are anything like me, you are attracted by everything new and you struggle saying no not because you don’t know how to say it but because you really want to do it, I have a bonus tip for you. Practice saying no each week to 1 thing that you don’t want to do and 1 thing that you want to do but will say no anyways because it’s not a top priority. Observe and enjoy how powerful and good it will feel!

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