How to Say No When You Feel Pressured to Say Yes

Do you have a difficult time saying no? I do. At heart, I am a people-pleaser. I hate disappointing people.

Judges Holding Up a No Sign - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/OrangeDukeProductions, Image #17072506

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/OrangeDukeProductions

But at some point, you realize that you can’t say yes to everyone else. Attempting to do so puts at risk your own agenda and the things that matter most.

Recently, at the recommendation of my friend, Mary DeMuth, I started reading The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes by Harvard professor William Ury. It has strengthened my resolve to say No when necessary but to do so in a healthy, respectful way.

In the introduction to the book, the author explains that there are three responses to someone who asks us to do something we don’t want to do.

  1. Accommodation: We say Yes when we want to say No. This usually comes when we value the relationship of the person making the request above the importance of our own interests.
  2. Attack: We say no poorly. This is a result of valuing our own interests above the importance of the relationship. Sometimes we are fearful or resentful of the request and overreact to the person asking.
  3. Avoidance: We say nothing at all. Because we are afraid of offending the other party, we say nothing, hoping the problem will go away. It rarely does.

Sometimes, these responses spill over into one another, making a difficult situation worse. For example, we initially avoid the request, prompting a second or third request. We then get annoyed and attack the one making the request. This leads to guilt, perhaps an apology, and then accommodation.

There has to be a better way. Fortunately, there is.

Dr. Ury suggests a fourth strategy that doesn’t require us to sacrifice either the relationship or our own priorities. He calls this a positive no.

This simple formula employs a “Yes-No-Yes” response. “In contrast to an ordinary No which begins with a No and ends with a No, a positive No begins with a Yes and ends with a Yes (p. 16).”

A positive No has three parts:

  1. Yes: It begins by saying Yes to yourself and protecting what is important to you. I would also add the importance of affirming the other person.
  2. No: It continues with a matter-of-fact No that sets clear boundaries. I also avoid leaving the door open by saying “maybe,” as in “maybe I can say Yes to your request in the future.”
  3. Yes: A positive No ends with a Yes that affirms the relationship and offers another solution to the person’s request.

For example, aspiring authors often e-mail me, asking that I review their book proposal. Here’s how I respond using the Yes-No-Yes formula.

Bill,

Congratulations on your new proposal. Very few authors make it this far. Thanks for your interest in having me review it.

Unfortunately, due to my other commitments, I am no longer able to review proposals. Therefore, I must decline.

However, I can give you some guidance on how to get published. If you haven’t already done so, may I recommend that you start by reading my blog post, “Advice for First Time Authors,” In it, I offer step-by-step instructions for what to do first.

I also have just published an entire audio course called, “Get Published” which distills my 30-plus years of publishing experience into 21 learning sessions. You can read about it here.

I hope you will find this helpful.

Michael

You can find additional examples in a post I wrote called, “Using E-mail Templates to Say No with Grace.”

Interestingly, I rarely have anyone pressure me after receiving an e-mail like this. They typically respond by saying, “Thanks for your consideration. I understand. Thanks for getting back to me.”

Question: Do you find it difficult to say No? How do you typically respond? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry Carter

    I don’t have a problem saying no, but I definitely would like for my No’s to be more positive.  I may have to check this book out.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Larry, I am in the same boat.  

    • http://www.paulbevans.com/ Paul B Evans

      I am with you too, Larry.

      A few years ago I moved form one ministry to another. The guy who followed me called one day to say he had told a member no. The member replied, “Don’t tell me what you’re not going to do. You sound like Paul Evans!”

      Gulp.

      • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry Carter

        Ouch!!! Stuff like that makes you think.

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

    I have no problem saying no unless I feel I owe compliance because the petitioner has done me favors in the past. 

  • Bradley j moore

    I found that saying “No” came after a point where I was so burnt out that it became rather easy to set boundaries. The harder part was beforehand, extracting myself from (or waiting out) the obligations that I had accumulated. Better to set priorities beforehand, know what you can and can not realistically commit to, be clear on your goals in life and what the few things are that will help you get there. This will also help in being positive when saying no.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I tend to go in cycles. I say Yes, fill up my schedule, then feel overwhelmed. Then I start saying No. I’d like to be more even about this and just say No consistently to those things that are at odds with my own priorities.

      • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

        Sounds like someone who had an insane week last week.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          You got that right.

      • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

         Yeah, I agree with the cyclical nature of being a people pleaser in general!

      • http://www.facebook.com/katia.kantziavas Katia Kantzia Vas

        I also go in cycles….Yes until depleted and overwhelmed and then I get into the No-periods. The suggestion, the example as well, of the positive No is great because there is no harm done to anyone. Thanks Michael for teaching how to say No gracefuly, protecting myself and meanwhile helping the other in a constractive way.

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      I see a similar pattern in my responses. I say yes to things I really don’t enjoy or have time for then hopefully learn from the experience and make a better choice the 2nd time around.

  • http://networkgooder.com Lee Glass

    I actually have a hard time saying no, myself.  I think its due to the amount of NO’s I’ve experienced in my past and not wanting to exhibit that negative feeling to my peers, family or friend.  However, you are right, there is a way to say it.  One that can still be both honest and positive.

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    Saying no has come pretty easy for me. It’s saying yes that I struggle with. 

    • http://dalemelchin.wordpress.com/ Dale Melchin

      I agree. :-D

      • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

        Right Dale! I know my wife gets frustrated with my no answers. Especially since she’s a yes-woman. 

        Have you found any productive ways to change your no answers? I’m looking and trying to figure something out.

        • http://dalemelchin.wordpress.com/ Dale Melchin

          That’s a good question Joe.

          Short answer is, if its planned in advance, it doesn’t get vetoed. Hope that helps!

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  • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

    I just got burned by saying yes this past Friday. My mistake was not asking enough questions about what I was being asked to do. On the surface it sounded like a simple request and I wanted to do the favor, but once I started to dig in I realized it was really a dump. Everything resolved, but it would have been easier to understand what I was saying yes to in the beginning.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I feel your pain. I have been in this situation so many times.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

       I have one of those right now!

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Jeremy –
      Great point.  I like the idea of asking probing questions.  

  • http://chrisvonada.info/ chris vonada

    Yikes, this is a tough issue for me too. I have learned that I have to tactfully say no, this post outlines an excellent way of doing just that. I, too, have learned that I have to reply… it’s just a part of my fabric!

  • Missy

    Thank you for this post. Following my recent appearance on Good Morning America about writing My Story, My Song, I have received countless requests from people wanting me to write their stories. I appreciate these ideas on how I might respond in a spirit of grace and helpfulness. Best, Missy Buchanan

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

       From the outside looking in, yours initially sounds like a good problem to have. I am reminded of a comment made by a lottery winner who had multiple requests to help friends out financially. The sense was “you made it big now you owe us.” People resented the no and expected a yes. Given your recent national exposure, you must find this a timely article.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Wow, Missy that is great.  This was a perfect post for you.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/garethmulholland Gareth Mulholland

    I like being busy and say ‘yes’ too often – but I’m learning slowly to remember that its those who matter the most that suffer the most when I say ‘yes’ too often. 
    Today, because I’m getting better at saying ‘no’ I have time to to take my young kids to see the Olympic flame carried through our City of Chester, England – a once in a lifetime event for all of us that could easily have been bumped off the calendar with ‘important’ work at the office.

    • http://www.joyjoyg.com/ Joy Groblebe

      Gareth – that is really cool!  What a great memory for them…

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      I think this is an excellent point, Gareth. When we overextend, what is really important suffers.

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

       You add an additional bit of wisdom by pointing out a yes to one can later be a no to another because of the previous obligation. Good example of seeing further down the road and preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity shared with those closest to you. Good choice!

  • http://www.alslead.com/ Dave Anderson

    Starting my new leadership consulting business has put me in this situation.   I am getting a lot of requests for people who want me to speak to their groups.  Unfortunately they want me to do it for free.

    I have done some of this for good causes and because it is a great marketing tool.  However, I need to avoid letting the pro bono work get in the way of generating paid opportunities.  This post helps.

    By the way, here is a Memorial Day Tribute I wrote about a fallen friend:  Posted yesterday–

    http://andersonleadershipsolutions.com/a-tribute-to-a-fallen-friend-and-hero/

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      Dave, your situation remind me of my wife’s when she started editing. At first, she offered to do a few edits for free in order to build a resume and establish herself as a freelance editor. Now she can no longer afford to take on the free client or to even handle a less-skilled author. Her schedule doesn’t allow her that luxury.

      Other freelancers who are where Ellen was five years ago will take on those authors that she can’t afford to say yes to any longer.

    • http://www.timpeters.org/ Tim Peters

      Dave, when I person ask me to speak or consult for free … I prob on the possibility of doing an honorarium.  

  • http://www.toddstocker.com/ Todd Stocker

    I’ve always lived with the mantra “Lead with a ‘Yes’.”  This has served me well overtime but it took a while to be able to say ‘No’ as well.  One thing that helped me was to develop a personal mission statement.  This keeps me saying yes to the events that are in line with how I’m wired, and allows me the flexibility to evaluate opportunities and say no if needed. 

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      I agree. A mission statement is a great way to help you keep in mind what you should be saying yes to and no to.

  • TheGreatDanaJ

    Sometimes this method can be frustrating for the person receiving it. In fact, I have been receiving emails similar to this. For example, when I ask for feedback on how to improve I still get a generic answer like this bland rejection. That doesn’t help me improve and I continue getting the same answer. It’s more discouraging than just hearing a real reason or explanation asto why.

    • http://www.joyjoyg.com/ Joy Groblebe

      I can see how you would feel that way.  I’ve often felt that way wondering…what’s the real reason?  But, as in Michael’s example, what if the REAL reason is that he just doesn’t have time?  What I’ve realized in those situations is that…there’s another solution for me.  I might have thought I really needed A – but the truth was, B was the better solution from the beginning.  Sometimes, it’s just really frustrating to find B!  :)

  • http://www.kellycombs.com/ Kelly Combs

    I used to have a hard time saying no, because of my fear the other party would be mad at me, or not like me.  But I have found a strong no leaves me feeling empowered, rather than the burning resentment of a weak yes.

    Another concept that helped me is that because of everyone’s limited time (we all have 24 hours a day) every time you say yes to one thing, you are in essence saying no to something else. Choose your “yes-es” wisely, so you don’t have to say no to something important. 

    Finally, I have come to the peaceful place that it is okay if some people don’t like me.  I have to be responsible to my God, my family and my self. And that means saying no sometimes, so I can honor the important things in my life. Three cheers for NO!

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

       All excellent points, Kelly. I especially find your contrast between a “strong no” and a “weak yes” very insightful. In reading Michael’s example, I see the empowering value of a strong no.

  • http://www.robsorbo.com/p/welcome-from-disqus.html Rob Sorbo

    I call that the “No Sandwich.” I can’t stand it! To me it feels passive aggressively misleading.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I don’t think you’d feel that way if you read the book. It is the most authentic way to say No that I have found. It is the only way to be faithful to both the relationship and your own priorities.

    • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

      I’m assuming the “No Sandwich” comes from the idea of telling a person bad news or negative information sandwiched between two positive comments. I’m curious as to how you see the answer as misleading. If I’m told no, I’m disappointed but I don’t feel mislead.

      • http://www.robsorbo.com/p/welcome-from-disqus.html Rob Sorbo

        Yes, that’s what I mean by No Sandwich. 

        I usually walk away from it thinking “Wow, just tell me the bad news, don’t sugar coat it.” I know a lot of very passive-aggressive people, so I have grown pretty intolerant of indirectness. 

        I suppose misleading is a generalization, and is based on the hearer’s personality. I’ve seen it the most when someone needs to hear a clear “No,” but instead they hear “Not now.” This leads to investment in dead ideas, because people need to be told “No” more directly.

        • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

           Okay, that helps to better understand your statement. I can agree with the “just-tell-me-the-bad-news” sentiment although I don’t mind having a positive takeaway from an unpleasant situation. On some level, I want to know I’m valued and taken seriously.

        • http://lemonysnicker.wordpress.com/ Lynn

           I know several personalities like yours that prefer (or sometimes only understand) a very blunt response.  Sometimes I prefer a simple yes or no myself, but I have learned that most of the time when I am responding to someone the best answer is one that is direct but not offensive in any way.

          I think the “No sandwich” is probably the best way to give a direct no while still being as kind as possible.  It can certainly come across as if you are looking down on someone if you’re not careful though.

  • http://www.theemptyinbox.com/ Michael Hawkins

    Yes — I find it tough to say ‘No’.  Although, as in your example, it’s much easier for me to say ‘No’ in an email than it is in person.  It’s the face-to-face contact that creates tension for me and, as a people-pleasing person, I find it really, really hard to decline someone’s request.

    Perhaps I’m getting a little better.  I find myself saying, “Let me check my calendar and get back with you” quite often.  And while it may be the wimpy, temporary way out, it seems to soften the hard ‘No’ that I have trouble delivering.

    I think I need to get Ury’s book and study it well.

    • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

      I try that sometimes too, but find that some people are persistent and ask me again later and then it is even harder to say no.

      • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

        He covers these situations in the book.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I think the key is putting some space between the request and your response. The need to check your calendar is one way to do that.

      • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

         I think it also allows you to assess the request in a more reasoned fashion. In the pressure of the moment, seeing the person face-to-face, I don’t respond to the actual request. I respond to the person’s mood. If I wait and evaluate the request based on its actual merits and expectations, when I say yes, I’m all in. And if I’m not able to help, I’m now saying no to the request rather than the person.

    • http://www.junesjournal.com/ June

      I admit that I’ve sometimes used “let me check with my husband” which enables me to follow-up with the person later to say, “Sorry, can’t do it.”  My hubby doesn’t mind this, but I try to avoid it since it makes him a “scapegoat” of sorts.  Better to say, “Let me check my calendar” like you say.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bobbie-Cole/100003675480465 Bobbie Cole

    I feel lots of guilt saying no, when I’m supposed to be part of something. 

    Last Sunday, my home group were on set-up, coffees/teas and clear-away duty at church but I had a bye, in order to be available to work with another home group at a later date. 

    Guilt welled up as I sipped my coffee and chatted while my fellow home groupers did chores. But I told myself a firm ‘no’ – this was my day to be Mary rather than Martha. 

  • http://www.workyouenjoy.com Adam Rico

    Oh yes, this is something I struggle with. I don’t like saying no. I want to serve and help people as much as I can. Thanks for providing your template for saying no. It is gracious and kind and still respects your own boundaries. I need to remember saying no preserves my ability to say yes to other priorities where I can be more effective.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      The author says that you say No with power, we have to find our deeper Yes — the thing we are saying Yes to by saying No.

      • Ipbubba

        I have one friend who is abusive this way. He called today to ask me to send an email for him. I said “don’t you have the address?” and he said “Huh, yeah, I suppose I do, somewhere in my BlackBerry.” He has no respect for boundaries, so I seldom interact with him anymore, since this is a lifescript for him, and not my job to correct. I am saying “yes” to my own priorities. I think Ury’s formula is helpful.

  • http://themarriagechecklist.com/ Dr. Ann

    I agree with the tie-in you described between wanting to please others versus setting healthy boundaries.  The “yes-n0-yes” is a great, practical way of saying “no” with love!

  • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

    That is great advice! I fall into the “yes” trap all the time because I hate to disappoint people – but that’s a “me” problem that I have to work on. I’ll download the book now!

  • http://www.revolutionarylife.org/ D.E. Stanley

    I like the idea of saying a solid yes or no. I can not tell you how many times I’ve requested something and then there is silence. A no can be worked around happily, but guessing when a person is just busy or saying no without any feedback is very annoying.

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  • http://www.joyjoyg.com/ Joy Groblebe

    Here’s my deal…I have a hard time saying no…but it’s just because I want to say yes!  I want to say yes when they ask me to volunteer at my kid’s school (this is a huge one for me), or help with a charity at church, or set up a friend’s party, or help plan a wedding, or go to a concert, or take another trip…I want to say yes because I love doing all of these things.  Problem is…there’s only 24 hours in my day and I have a family, a career…it gets frustrating to not be able to take part in everything I want to.

    It’s easy for me to say no to something I don’t want to do, it’s harder for me to think I might “miss out” on something.  It’s more a matter of prioritizing than anything.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      It is amazing to me, Joy, how much you DO accomplish. You remind me so much of my daughter, Mindy. (By the way, she just announced to us last night that she is expecting baby #4.)

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    I’ve really enjoyed the book and the affirming way the author teaches us to say no based on our personal convictions. It’s helping me a lot! I’m glad the book is blessing you, Michael!

  • Lisa Schmidt

    During my undergraduate studies 15-20 years ago, I developed a series of lesson plans for an education course I took. I created a unit on family communication patterns, and one of the activities I incorporated was called the “No Sandwich” (as Rob mentioned below).  It was a hit! But maybe a missed opportunity for me? shoulda coulda …I find that when I say no but then offer a recommendation of someone who might be able to fulfill the request of the person asking goes a long way to building a trusted relationship. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That’s why I like to refer people to other resources too. I may not be able to help personally, but I like to point them toward something.

  • Purdier

    Very insightful, I am learning that our culture cultivates environments where people are seldomly told no, and if they are it is presented more as a maybe than an expressly stated no. There are times where I can become caught-up in this environment, and I really need to see this as an opportunity for me as a leader, to be vigilant with stating no and explaining myself. Thanks for the post.

    • Rachel Lance

      Great point, environment can be such a huge factor – bringing complications galore to what should be a simple yes or no decision. 

  • Ben Nelson

    this is so good – thank you – I find myself saying yes far too often for exactly the reasons you stated.

    thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Taylor/1286512656 Brian Taylor

    I have found much value in the Yes-No-Yes principle. I have heard this touted for a number of years have found it to be quite helpful since I have been know to be most agreeable throughout my life. Taking this approach definitely affords me to stay focused on things that are priority without disappointing others who desire my help or input.

  • http://colebradburn.com/ Cole Bradburn

    When your time is a limited resource, saying “No” to something allows you to say “Yes” to something else, something more aligned with your values/mission/vision.  The key is having a vision for your life to use as a compass for when to say yes and no. 

    Without a clear vision, one cannot tell the difference between opportunity and distraction.

  • http://www.authorcynthiaherron.com/ Cynthia Herron

    Love this! I’m a people-pleaser, too. I’ve gotten better about saying “no” in recent years, but it’s still difficult at times. Generally, I try to start with something positive, as in “Thanks for thinking of me. Because of some other commitments, I’ll have to pass for now.” It’s the “affirming yes” that’s a bit tricky. I want to be diplomatic, while at the same time, valuing my own priorities.
     

  • http://www.junesjournal.com/ June

    Wow, this is the third article this week I’ve come across with the same message!  Here’s one that was published last week called, “The Beauty of “No!” — see:  
    http://heartmissiontherapy.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/the-beauty-of-no/.

    There’s also a cool Christian book on this topic called, “Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  An oldie but goodie!

    God has my attention. Maybe He’s reminding me to stop saying YES so much : ) 

  • lyndarva

    I think this is a big problem when you are involved in ministries, I experienced it myself and observed it with others. I think telling someone “no” is a matter of doing it graciously. A wise pastor told me I didn’t need to explain why when I said “no,” but depending on the situation, I think that is a good thing. 

    You need to stay focused on your purpose and job responsibilities. Unfortunately, saying “no” is “not allowed” in some ministries and people become stressed and burned out.

    • Rachel Lance

      Such a great point! When we invest our time and energy in a ministry, it’s so easy to slip into yes mode because “it’s for the cause”. Relentless vision is so important to staying on track and making the most of your ministry resources. 

  • http://www.beyondthesinnersprayer.wordpress.com/ Barb

    I used to be a people pleaser to the max. It never occurred to me that I could actually say no. I changed by looking at my reasons for saying yes – in other words, why do I feel like I have to say yes to this person? Usually, it’s self-motivated. Wanting them to like me, not wanting them to be mad at me, etc. 

    In order to say no, I’ve had to accept the fact that sometimes people will be mad at me. It helps when I remember to ask God what He wants me to do and seek to please Him rather than others!

    • Jennifer Major

      Excellent points Barb, very clear and concise. God didn’t invent the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ so we could destroy ourselves.

      • http://twitter.com/pgowesky Peter Gowesky

        I just wrote a post about how tiring people pleasing is!  http://thesaltlick.tv/2012/05/25/people-pleasing-takes-a-ton-of-work/

  • Rmeadows

    I am really bad about saying “yes” when I really don’t want to.  I’m afraid someone won’t like me if I say “no”.  It is a lot of pressure and I am already in two situations where I want to say “no”, but have said “yes”.  HELP!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Stop what you are doing and buy the book! It will help you.

    • http://www.kellycombs.com/ Kelly Combs

      If they don’t like you because you say no, that isn’t a real friend. Real friends respect one another. Healthy relationships respect each other. There is power in NO. Say it, and be empowered. (The first 10 times you will feel guilty, but it gets easier!)  God bless.

      • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

        I totally agree with this, Kelly. Great advice.

  • CharlesRFuqua

    Your comments
    on how to say no are helpful. I am a retired attorney and no longer carry
    malpractice insurance. people still ask me for legal advice and I do not feel comfortable
    giving it. Your guidance will help me say no in a more appropriate manner.

     

    Charles R.
    Fuqua, J.D., Author of God’s Law – The Only Political Solution

    GodsLawForAmerica.com

    CharlesRFuqua.com

    CharlesRFuqua@gmail.com

  • Danaccolucci

    I’ve always had a problem saying no. Being 21 i feel like i should have time for everything or i feel like i’m missing out on something. But I’m now starting to realize that saying no is the key to staying focused.

    • Rachel Lance

      What a great awareness to have at such an early stage of life. Hold onto that focus!

  • http://twitter.com/seanpalmer Sean Palmer

    Thanks for this. I don’t have a hard time saying no, but I don’t always do so graciously. The template you laid out is very helpful.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    At times I do have a problem saying no. In reading this, I recognize that I don’t respect my own schedule and priorities so I say yes to a request then resent it. This article is helpful in two ways. First,  it helps me see an area I need to strengthen–respect for my schedule. Second, it offers me a better way to respond to requests.

  • Kendall Lyons

    Hello:
    This is definitely something I tried once, only it wasn’t in written form. It actually worked out for the good and I thank God for it.

    I’m definitely one of those types who had to learn to shut up and be asked and prepare to have my “Yes” or “No” ready.

    It was either the moment destroy me or me destroy the moment when I was a “Yes” man.

  • Sue G.

    Such a timely message for me as this was the topic of our bible study this morning. The difficulty I have with ‘no’ is simple cause and effect. For every ‘no’ that is uttered someone usually has to cover the slack and the burden gets heavier for those left standing. This is the case with ministry work, non-profit groups that rely on volunteers, etc. Since this is the world I operate in, ‘no’ might be good for one person, but leaves the burden of duty on someone else. I think in context of a group situation, where everyone has a part to play, ‘no’ needs to be used carefully and judiciously. 

  • http://www.hope101.net Lori Tracy Boruff

    Now I know that I know how to say NO.
    I usually say yes which creates a mess
    but now when I say YES I mean NO – I guess!

    Love the post! This information offers a great solution to a big problem. 

    P.S. I LOVE your new book – Platform. Don’t tell your copy editor I said this but – it is AMAZING!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Lori. I appreciate that!

  • http://www.imperfectpeople.net Katie @ Imperfect People

    I am the worlds worst no sayer because of #1 acomodation. But I usually just end up frustrating everyone including myself because I won’t say what I mean!! Thanks for this reminder and I am starting today practicing a healthy NO

  • Jennifer Major

    My dad, in his amazing wisdom, once pointed out a flaw in a woman we all loved and admired. She did everything that was asked of her and wore herself out doing things for other people. I told him that I admired her work ethic and what he said stunned me. 
    “She does all that work so people will notice how much work she does.” 

    I was challenged to watch her and really see what was going on. The poor, sweet, loving Christian lady was utterly exhausted. She either did not know how, or did not want to say ‘no’. I was saddened by what I saw, she felt duty bound to exhaust herself.

    I learned a lot from that experience:

    a) not everyone likes me
    b) they’re dumb if they don’t  :)

    Okay…for real now…

    c) I am not made in the image of Superwoman
    d) when asked to do something, I tell EVERYONE that I need to look at my schedule and get back to them. My husband and kids come first. If they don’t like that answer, then I may not be the serf they’re looking for.
    e) everyone has priorities, but someone else’s are NOT yours, learn to live within those parameters.

    • http://itinerantblogger.wordpress.com/ Reed Hanson

      Really appreciate this story. Well said.

    • http://www.kellycombs.com/ Kelly Combs

      So agree Jennifer. I said something similar, in that if someone doesn’t like me because I have to say no, it is there problem, not mine. As a wife and mom, every yes to something outside the home, is a NO to family. We need to choose wisely.

  • http://itinerantblogger.wordpress.com/ Reed Hanson

    I’m getting married soon, so this type of thinking is especially well-timed and worthwhile. While I don’t think our ceremony has strayed too far from what we envisioned, there is pressure at every turn to make an accommodation to make someone else happy. It just cannot be done!

    • Jennifer Major

      Ooooh, this IS a tough one!  Focus on the fact that you aren’t marrying everyone AT the ceremony, just the gorgeous girl in the dress.  Make a list of yes and no deal breakers and you’ll find that it’s much easier to pare down the fluff that gets in the way of YOUR wedding. I had to learn my vows in ASL, that was the only big extra we had to deal with. 
      Oh, and don’t forget to say yes when the big moment comes!

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Reed, I know that feeling. When my wife and I got married everyone wanted a say in the wedding. From the dresses, to the people who stood up for us, to the music that was played. 

      Hold firm on what you and your fiance would like for your wedding. It’s your special day and those that are involved in it have the honor of being in it. If they’re not happy, remind them that it is your day.

  • Diana

    As a literary agent, I have to say ‘no’ more often than I desire to. So many factors go into my decision, but you are correct. Putting it off ‘never’ makes it easier – often causing me to offer them free editing to make up for my delay, further putting me behind. I care so much about encouraging authors, but I need to consider my contracted clients above those that query me. A delicate balance. Thank you for this article. I will def. use it to fine tune my ‘no’s. 

    • Jim Martin

      Diana, you make a good point.  “Putting it off ‘never’ makes it easier….”  So true.  It took me awhile to learn that.  I recall a time when I kept putting off the no.  The thought of the eventual conversation lingered like stale smoke in the air.  Putting it off certainly didn’t help.

  • http://www.faughnfamily.com/ Adam Faughn

    I needed this post so much! As a minister, it is in my heart to try to help, teach, and encourage everyone who might ask (and some who don’t). However, by doing that, I know I am also teaching others to not have boundaries. Thank you for this “template” on how to say “no” while still affirming a loving, positive relationship.

    • Jim Martin

      Adam, I found this post to be very helpful as well.  

  • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

    Thanks for the blog post. This is a great encouragement to me for future interactions.

  • deairby

    I actually am writing an article titled, “The Power of No and my $50,000 Yes”! Without the ability to stand strong and say “no,” you can make decisions according to what other people think….and find yourself in debt…ouch!

  • Tom Wissert

    Michael,

    Saying NO is difficult especially if you are trying to build your business.  Often times we put ourselves in bad positions when we knew better to start with.  We all need to know how to say NO with grace and I think you spelled it out well here.

    • Jim Martin

      Tom, your first sentence reminded me as to why this post is so important.  There are particular contexts in which saying No is particularly difficult.  Because of this, it is so important that we be intentional about saying “yes” and “no” especially when we find our context to be difficult.

  • http://twitter.com/pgowesky Peter Gowesky

    I love this post!  As one who struggles with saying No, you have given me the right language to say no!  

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Great to hear Peter! It can be difficult to begin with but with practice it gets easier. Just don’t swing too much one way or the other.

  • http://actuallykatie.com/ Katie McAleece

    The magic word here is “boundaries”- saying no sometimes really boils down to setting healthy boundaries for yourself. We aren’t super heroes, we can’t do everything. We have to say no to certain things to keep our own selves well.

    I think some people see that as being selfish but -to me- it simply means, “This is how I take care of myself.” just like eating well and working out.

    Thank you for this reminder! Something that many, many of us need. Very uplifting.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Well said, Katie!  It reminds me of Henry Cloud’s book “Boundaries”.  It’s one that every person should read.

  • http://www.bradhuebert.com/ Brad Huebert

    Every yes is a no to something else. The trick is to choose what we’re saying yes and no to in a way that builds a meaningful life. I like the Yes-no-yes structure. Thanks for sharing that. Mary DeMuth has been a good friend to me, too.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      You got that right Brad. We get caught up in saying yes and forget what we’re saying no to. It could be family, ourselves, friends, or something else. We need to be careful and weigh the importance of our yes.

    • Jim Martin

      Brad, it took me a long time to learn what you said in your first sentence!  That is exactly right.  I learned this after realizing that I was unable to be a part of some great opportunities because I had said yes to so many other things.

  • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

    This discussion raises the whole notion of “maybe”.  When does “maybe” make sense?  Perhaps when factors are outside your control?

    I learned so much from Ury’s famous book on principled negotiation, Getting to Yes.  Thanks for sharing this one!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I think you have to really be careful with Maybe, especially with kids. They are it as Yes.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Great question, Travis!  Of course, Michael is right when saying you have to be careful with Maybe.  I have gotten in a lot of trouble painting a vision of Maybe’s that didn’t pan out exactly as envisioned, because folks thought the Maybe was a promise and/or guarantee.

      However, I think there are times when Maybe can work.  Here’s an example of what I would consider a Maybe, or a “Conditional Yes”:  

      Sometimes folks will ask for my help with something that they haven’t fleshed out enough to be worth my time.  If the project could potentially become important to me (either based on the project, itself, or the relationship) AND it might warrant a future slot on my calendar, I might tell the person that I would love to work with them, but I can’t fit the project in right now (today, this week, or this month), but let me know when you make it to the next stage (past the impending deadline) and I would love to look at it again.

      This usually strengthens the relationship because they see that I’m interested and allows me to gauge their commitment (by seeing if they ever make it to the next project level) before committing my time and energy resources.  

      If they do come back after bringing the project to the next level, they have earned more credibility which may make them a priority.  Though, if I still can’t make the time for them at this point, I give them a polite “no”.  I don’t want to continue to string them along with Conditional Yes’s.  That would hurt the relationship.

  • http://www.thehahnhuntinglodge.com/ Nikole Hahn

    It’s not easy saying no. I’m practicing it now. I try to be too accomodating which brought me to a nasty bout of burn out last summer. 

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      I’m with you, Nicole!  Burn out and being unable to meet more important commitments are the results of not saying “No” enough.  Once you go through that experience and have good tools to do it, it becomes easier to say “No”.

  • http://www.junesjournal.com/ June

    I wonder if anyone struggles with saying No too much :)

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I have never met him or her!

  • Lynn

    I definitely have a problem saying no and apply the avoidance-attack-accommodation technique, which makes me feel trapped and I start to despise the world. Coming from an Asian background, I was trained to respect elders in all aspect, sadly, this made me a “doormat” to be taken advantage of. After reading this post, I can’t wait to give a Positive No to an unreasonable request.

    • Jim Martin

      Lynn, please let us know about your experience with this.  Congratulations on your willingness to work toward a positive no.

  • http://www.brandongilliland.com/ Brandon Gilliland

    Thanks for sharing these tips! This is something that a successful leader needs to know how to do.

  • http://theblogpile.wordpress.com/ Peter DeHaan

    Brilliant!

  • http://danblackonleadership.com/ Dan Black

    Michael,

    While serving as a volunteer  youth leader I had to learn the importance of saying no. I served at a small church and their was plenty of opportunity’s to serve in different ministry’s. However my focus was in the youth department so I had an easy time of saying no to other areas, so I could focus my time and energy in that area. I understood my purpose and talents would best be used working with youth.  

    I’m going to put the book on my book list, I know it would better help me. Thanks for the tips and book recommendation.

  • johnmurphyinternational

    Michael, how many times have I found myself doing something and wondering how I get myself into this in the first instance! I also think that saying NO is just fairer all around when you know (!) that that is the correct answer in the first place.
    In your example, the great thing is that you responded – that is so much appreciated

  • http://www.thegeezergadgetguy.com/ Thad Puckett

    Amazingly, after I turned 50 I made a new self-discovery, or, at least, came to a new understanding about myself:  I am a pleaser.  I didn’t really understand that about myself, but I am.  

    How do you use the “Yes-No-Yes” model when the person is standing in front of you instead of emailing you?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I do. I think it works as well in person as it does with e-mail.

  • Pepita

    I read the book ages ago and forgot along the way. Thanks for reminding me. Just said Yes to something I really wanted to say No to. 

    • Jim Martin

      Pepita, 
      Your second sentence illustrates just how fast a yes happens.  Can I ever relate!  You go through you day and realize “just said yes to something I really wanted to say No to.”  I usually come away from this realization asking myself “What was I thinking?”

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  • http://www.n2growth.com/blog Mike Myatt

    Hi Michael:

    I’m not a huge fan using no. I wrote a column on Forbes espousing the benefits of helping people get to a yes as an alternative to using no: http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemyatt/2011/12/27/leadership-and-the-power-of-yes 

    I hope this perspective adds flavor to your discussion.

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  • http://www.theworld4realz.com/ Andi-Roo

    My family members tend more toward “NO”, so I’ve always tried to go the opposite extreme. Now I’m known as the girl who says “YES” to everything, & it’s finally starting to catch up with me. While I like that my family members all know they can depend on me while everyone else is still saying “NO”, I don’t like that no one is seems to pick up the slack, & I find I get more bitter with each uttered “YES”. I never want to become a person who says “NO” all the time, so this is great advice for me where I currently stand in my life. I can still be positive, dependable *me*, while not running myself into the ground. Thanks — I plan to bookmark this page for a constant reminder to make myself available in a less available manner, lolz! :)

  • http://www.TaraJohnsonMinistries.com/ Tara Johnson

    My entire music ministry is built on this platform. For years I said ‘yes’ to everyone because I feared their disappointment, their anger and was afraid that their disappointment equaled loss of love. After a bad battle with depression, God revealed to me that I was living to please everybody else instead of Him. After a trip to the doctor, reading “Boundaries” and an in-depth season of Bible study, I came to realize that Jesus was not a people pleaser: He is a God pleaser. He has restored joy back into my life and now I get to travel, speak and sing to help others battling this same problem!

    The methods outlined here are wonderful: I have called this the oreo method. lol! Thank you so much for posting!

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  • http://manyhatsmommy.com/ Manyhatsmommy

    I, too, am a recovering people-pleaser. I am going to see if this book is in my library system! Thanks for the recommendation.

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  • Chichiwambua

    I call this the sandwich method. It is a great Yes No Yes method with the Yes as the bread of the sandwich and the No being in the meat :-)

  • Vikkie

    I always accommodate and end being stretched too thin.I will definitely try to follow the approach you present.. Thanks

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  • P_d_ogren

    I’m sorry that won’t work for me right now.

    Or if the other person is requesting something inappropriate
    I’ll for give you for asking – but you’ll have to forgive me for not answering

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  • Unhappy

    I usually just fold and say yes. Then….I hate myself as well as the person who asked me to take up 4 hours of my day to watch her kids. I don’t know how to say no nicely. I feel like I just haven’t made plans yet so how can I say no. The truth is….at 7:30 in the morning my day has just started and I’m planning. She knows that so that’s when she swoops in and calls in desperation. Now I hate myself because I don’t have a day. What am I suppose to say….oh…I can’t help you out because I have to grocery shop or replace a broken mouse for the computer. These are all things that are somewhat flexible when she has a schedule. Ugh. I hate myself.

  • Cristina

    I am living with my niece, her husband and her little daughter in my house. Recently they brought a dog in the house, they slightly asked me, I couldn’t say no. My life is miserable because the dog is making a mess everywhere. How can I set boundaries? How can I stablish rules, I think they are abusing my kindness, I have more work trying to keep the house clean, the house smells like dog and I can’t stand that. I know is going to get worse every time. I don’t want problems with my sister but I feel so miserable, for that reason I have to accept her daughter and her family in my house.   

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  • Caitlin

    I want to use this opportunity to thank drstanleyspelltemple@hotmail.com for helping me get my lover back after he left me few months ago. I have sent friends and my brothers to beg him for me but he refused and said that it is all over between both of us but when I met this Dr. Stanley, he told me to relaxed that every thing will be fine and after three days and contacted him, I got my man back……Caitlin