The Fine Art of Saying No

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By Rosemary Tator and Alesia Latson

No one can live your life but you. No one can create your life but you. In today's hyper-busy world, we often get so caught up in just catching up that we fail to take the time to live our lives.

Choosing how your life proceeds is truly up to you. This can sound trite in today's cynical world but consider that once you know what you want, you can take one step at a time to accomplish it.

"Wall of No’s"
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best-selling book Eat, Pray, Love, mentioned in an interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show a strategy for having focus in her life. She talked about surrounding herself with a “wall of no’s” so that she could deliver on what she was saying yes to. For many of us, it is tempting to crowd our lives with yeses and not designate time for ourselves and for the true priorities in our lives. There is great power that comes from being able to say no.

A business's strategic plan helps its leaders decide not only what to do but also what not to do. In creating a strategic plan for your life, it is equally important to identify what you are going to say yes to and what you are going to say no to. The clearer you are about how your time is being spent, and the more you fill your days with what you say is most important, the easier it is to say no.

The Fine Art of Saying No
Listed here are some specific keywords or phrases you can use in saying no to other people's requests in a way that is authentic. Your tone and underlying intent need to be congruent with your words to have a positive impact.

  • No, thank you.
  • Thank you for the gracious invitation. I regret that I must decline.
  • That sounds like a lot of fun, which makes it even harder for me to decline.
  • I'm not able to do that right now.
  • It is no for now.
  • I have another commitment at that time.
  • I'm sorry, I have plans that night. Thank you.
  • I have an important family commitment.
  • I'd rather decline than do a mediocre job.
  • I'd like to help out; it's that I have other projects I am committed to finishing before I take on anything else.
  • I'm sorry; I really can't give that project the attention it deserves.
  • I'd love to help, but I'm on a strict deadline for the next few days. Let me know if there's any way I can help another time.
  • Thank you. This really isn't my strong suit. Let me connect you with someone who can do it.
  • Some things have come up that need my attention.
  • No, I won't be able to make it, but please let me know how it goes.
  • I'm sorry, as a general rule I don't participate in [insert activity here]. If there's another way I can help, let me know.
  • I have a policy of [insert policy]. Example: "I have a policy of not gossiping."
  • I can't right now, but I can do it [insert a specific time here].
  • Unfortunately, I have other commitments right now. If you'd like, I can get back with you at [insert a specific time here].
  • I can't right now, but I know you will do a wonderful job yourself.

What can you say no to that can give rise to a higher yes? Try this exercise: Think of one to two people you have a hard time saying no to, or you feel you can't say no to. Write down three to five different ways you can say no to them.

The assumption we are making is that you want more time for you so that you can do what you want, when you want, and how you want more often. Right? Our signature motto is “create your life and design your days.” If you want to have more time to do what your heart desires, then it will be critical for you to actively participate in designing and planning your life.

Your dreams can come true; there is no question about that. But make no mistake: Dreams won't come true by wishing, hoping, thinking, wondering, or pleading. Dreams come true by being intentional, purposeful, grateful, and open, then taking committed, directed action toward the desired outcome.

© 2011 Rosemary Tator and Alesia Latson. Adapted by permission of the publisher from More Time for You: A Powerful System to Organize Your Work and Get Things Done, by Rosemary Tator and Alesia Latson (AMACOM, a division of American Management Association,

About the Author(s)

Rosemary Tator and Alesia Latson Rosemary Tator is Principal Partner of 2beffective™LLC. Alesia Latson is Principal of the Latson Leadership Group. The are coauthors of More Time for You: A Powerful System to Organize Your Work and Get Things Done (AMACOM, 2011).