5 Reasons Why You Need to Get Better at Saying “No”

I have a hard time saying “no.” Perhaps you do, too. I think it is more common than we think, especially for those who are empathetic or nurturing. We just hate the thought of hurting someone else’s feelings.

Red marker writing the word

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/WendellandCarolyn

I didn’t really notice this problem in myself, because for most of my career I have had an assistant who said “no” for me. If someone had a request, they had to get through her first.

This gave me the buffer I needed to consider the request more carefully. I then let her say “no” on my behalf. The fact that I didn’t have to deliver the bad news myself kept me focused and productive.

Now that I have left the corporate world, everything has changed. I don’t currently have an assistant (a problem I am working to remedy). That means the requests are all coming straight to me.

For example, a few weeks ago, an acquaintance—someone I met briefly at a conference—sent me an email. These aren’t the exact words, but this is typically of the kinds of requests I now get:

I read your blog daily and follow you on Twitter. We met briefly after your speech in Dallas. I am going to be in Nashville next week and would really like to meet with you.

I am in the middle of a personal crisis and could use your counsel. I know you are busy, but this is really important. It would mean the world if you could make time for me. Could I buy you breakfast, lunch—or just coffee—to pick your brain?”

I ended up saying “yes”—and was kicking myself almost immediately. The lunch meeting ended up being a total waste of time. He didn’t come prepared. In fact, when it was all said and done, I had no idea what he really wanted.

The problem is that I am now getting several of these requests a day. It could be a full-time job if I let it.

But that’s not going to happen, thanks to the encouragement of my family and close friends. There is too much at stake. They are holding me accountable.

I have now resolved to say “no” to everything unless there is a really, really compelling reason to say “yes.” In other words, I have switched my default response from “yes” to “no.”

Sure enough, I have getting plenty of opportunities to practice!

As I was thinking about this today, I was reminded again of why it is so important—not only for me, but probably for you as well. I wrote down five reasons.

If we don’t get better at saying “no,”

  1. Other peoples’ priorities will take precedence over ours.
  2. Mere acquaintances—people we barely know!—will crowd out time with family and close friends.
  3. We will not have the time we need for rest and recovery.
  4. We will end up frustrated and stressed.
  5. We won’t be able to say “yes” to the really important things.

This last one was the clincher for me. Every time I say “no” to something that is not important, I am saying “yes” to something that is.

Note: if you think this is somehow unspiritual, think how many times Jesus said “no” either explicitly or implicitly, so that He could stay focused on His Father’s business (see John 11:5-6 for one example).

Question: How are you doing at saying “no”? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.facebook.com/Padiwan2 Joie Fulton

    So help me, when I say no to my family, I’m made to feel guilty and wrong. They want to hear more YES from me. I just wish they understood things from my perspective and were more encouraging.

  • Pingback: Saying No (I keep coming back to this) | In Pam's Words

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7XFJXNFXYP5EB63IBTKEX3LLWE red bird

    Ok really needed to read this..
    I groom dogs for aliving and i am constantly getting asked to do service for people that
    “can’t afford to pay, or pay full price” well, WTH?   I can’t go anywhere and beg for help.
    Dogs are not necessities. I would watch somebodys kid if they were going ino the hospital
    for something, but not their dog. I am not zoned to do it, I don’t like to do it, the road is close and if the blasted thing get out it could get hit, and its always people that need a dog like they need a hole in their head. NO!  IF you can’t afford to board, groom, feed, or vet your dog. Don’t have one.
    Its always elderly, mentally impared, or oddball people that seem to be drawn to me, and its going to stop. I feel like they are sucking the life blood out of me. And I am done, being a soft target for these people to use.

  • Barry Clink


    I would like to start saying “Yes” to those whom you say “No”. That is the business I am in. Please check out my blog at http://www.yourchaplain.wordpress.com  This is the first phase of starting a Mobile Ministry. I would gladly and humble accept any referral from any of your “No’s”.

    Very humbly,


  • K Lynch339

    I am horrible at saying no, and have been taken advantage–more ways than one–because of it. It is gross and I hate it. I’d like to know why. I have guesses, but want it fixed.

    • Jim Martin

      K, as Michael points out in his post, many of us have difficulty saying no.  I can look back to a time in life where I think I said yes to most everything.  Not good.

      I would encourage you to think about the situations in which you typically say yes and then regret it.  Next, think through the answer that you will give these people the next time you are asked.  Say it aloud long before you are faced with the situation.

      Like Michael, it finally occurred to me (the hard way) that my saying yes was actually saying no to some things that are very important to me.

  • Davidr8686

    “Every time I say “no” to something that is not important, I am saying “yes” to something that is.”

    This is good stuff…

  • Liz

    I find this to be a blessing. It’s the first time I actually pinpointed that I have a problem with saying no, and I find this something I’d like to try. Thank you for your insights!

  • Leslie Smith

    I glad I read the article I needed this right now. I’m a work in progress as well.

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  • Eddie brown

    I say no almost every day