How to Say No Graciously, Manage Your Life Here!

I recently read a brilliant book titled “Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. I highly recommend it to all who want to remove the trivia in their lives and focus on what matters.

Psycho boss imageIn this post, I draw on Greg’s ideas about doing one thing that will make such a difference in managing your life, your work and your relationships. Learn how to say NO graciously.

It is a fundamental life skill

Being able to say NO is an essential life skill. Not just for your work, but in every sphere of your life. And yet I never cease to be amazed at the large numbers of people I meet who struggle with this.

I recently gave a keynote speech to a group of around 80+ professionals. In my address, I asked my audience how many people were able to say NO. Less than 10 showed their hands.

Interestingly, there were even less when I asked a further question about having difficult conversations. Apparently, the notion of conflict avoidance plays large here, but that is a subject for another time.

Practice makes perfect!

Like any other skill, you need to practice it. So, avoiding saying NO when you want to makes the problem greater. If you are British and you are reading this, the situation becomes worse. That is because we have that quaint knack of saying things one way, which have an entirely different meaning to the person hearing.

What that means is you need to take action and to do it as soon as possible. Do not procrastinate, take charge of your life and be bold. You will not believe the feeling that taking back your life will bring!

Reject the notion that you can do it all

If you are keen to take back control of your life, you have to start by rejecting the idea that you can do it all. So many people delude themselves into believing this fallacy. You can’t, none of us can, and you should make a start by accepting this.

Give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, and you have made a massive step forward to taking back control. Consider all your options and filter them, choosing only the most essential. Greg suggests that when your receive a request, if your answer is not a definite YES, then it is a clear NO. I have found this takes a little time to work through, but it is sound advice. Of course, then you need to say NO, rather than fudge around the edges or do the British thing. Typically, we might say, MAYBE, or PERFECT or FINE, when what we mean is the request has just completely ruined our day!

OK – so how do I say No graciously?

In his book, Greg suggests eight separate ways.

  1.  Use the awkward pause – when the person makes the request, do not immediately reply. Take time to think through your options. Often the silence will cause the other person to assume the answer is no, so they will offer a new option.
  2. Try the soft ‘No’, often known as the ‘No, but’ – it works like well when you can make a counter suggestion. If, for example, your boss asks, “Can you work on Saturday”, you might reply, “No, that’s time I reserve exclusively for my family, but I could work on Sunday”.
  3. Try the No that creates some space for you. Say, for example, to a request for a meeting, “Let me check my diary and get back to you.” It holds space for you to think through your best course of action, and then perhaps to use one of the other ways of saying No graciously.
  4. If you need space from email communicators, try using an automatic email reply. It is a commonplace to see them now, and again you get to have the space to think first.
  5. When being overloaded by your boss or work colleagues, say, “Yes, what should I deprioritize?”That throws the ball back to them and can lead to a proper conversation about what your workload is, and its prioritisation.
  6. Say it with humour. Recently, my best friend wanted to know if I would do the 109 meters canyon swing at his daughter’s wedding next January. I laughed and said, You have got to be kidding me!” He took that as an NO.
  7. Offer an exchange of commitments that sets boundaries about how far you are prepared to go. Use the words “You are welcome to use my X. I am willing to Y.” So, for me, a recent example was, “Yes, you are welcome to use our minibus. I am ready to make sure the keys are available for you.” In that instance, the person asking the question was hoping I would drive the minibus for them. That was not going to happen.
  8. Suggest another person better suited to deal with the task. Say, “I can’t do it, but Phil might be interested.” It gives your colleague another line of inquiry and leaves you free to move on without yet another burden.

I have used each and every one of these suggestion numerous times, and I hope they are helpful to you. However, I still believe the most powerful way to manage your life is to be clear about what you will and will not do, and say so to people when they ask you for something you are not prepared to give.

[Tweet “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes. – Tony Blair”]

I welcome your comments and enjoy engaging in further dialogue. If I can be of any assistance in coaching your leadership practice or developing greater personal resilience, please just ask.

Contact me on or by calling +447958765972.

I am always happy to listen and ready to help.

Thank you for reading.

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