“Very successful people say no to almost everything” — Warren Buffett
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
— Warren Buffett
We all know focus leads to greater success. Yet, most people dilute their focus by saying yes when they should be saying no.
Whether we are driven by the fear of missing out or by the urge of pleasing others, saying yes too often weakens our personality.
The more often you say yes to something, the weaker your yes becomes. The more projects you take on, the fewer your available energy for every single of those projects.
To make a change in the world, you must learn to say no.
And while the first no seems daunting, it’ll become easier every time you say it. Just like anything in life, saying no is a skill you can learn.
And once you have a repertoire for “no’s” at your disposal, you can adapt and use them for your needs.
Here are 14 curated ways to say no with instructive examples on when to use them.
1. Thanks for reaching out. I appreciate the thought, but my priorities are elsewhere.
This no is clear and concise. You can use it for any casual invite or idea. When you feel the urge to help, you can also offer an alternative solution.
For example, if somebody is asking you for advice, point them towards a book you like, an article you wrote, or a podcast episode you recorded.
2. This sounds super exciting, but unfortunately, I can’t find the time.
The key to an effective “no” is not to get lost in over-explaining. Every extra justification will weaken your no.
Instead, make a straightforward statement. By saying you can’t find the time, you won’t open the room for negotiation.
While in truth, “can’t find the time” is a more respectful way to say, “I don’t find it important enough,” most people won’t question your reply.
3. I’m flattered you considered me, but regrettably, I’ll have to pass this time.
This one is my favorite “no” to hear. I got it countless times from speakers I requested while organizing a startup conference in Vienna.
I love it because the prase shows appreciation and leaves the door open for future opportunities. “This time” implies there might be the next time.
It’ll be more comfortable for the opposite person to accept your “no” when you leave the door open for future collaboration.
4. No thanks, I won’t be able to make it.
This one is short and requires confidence. The shorter your “no,” the harder it is to say. A brief, gracious “no” takes practice.
But once you dare to speak it out loud, you’ll be able to repeat it the next time.
5. Regrettably, I’m not able to. I can‘t set aside the time needed.
While still short, this way to say “no” demonstrates you thought the option through. It’s a great combination of logic and empathy.
You assessed the time that’d be needed to complete the ask and measured it against your available time. This “no” is a logical, thoughtful conclusion.
Yet, the use of “regrettably” demonstrates your empathy. You would have loved to, but you can’t.
“The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”
— Lin Yutang
6. No, but I know someone that might be a fit for that. I’ll email you their information.
This one shifts the focus from your reply to a new person. This one works great when you don’t have a respectful reason to say no.
You let the other person know you can’t while still offering an alternative solution.
Instead of worrying why you said no, your counterpart would shift the energy towards the new option on the table.
7. I wish I could help you out, but already committed to other projects. I’ll let you know if something changes.
This phrase shows your competence. It demonstrates you’re clear about your priorities. At the same time, you offer empathy as you state you wish you could help.
It shows your yes is a hell yes. It shows when you say yes to something; your commitment equals 100%.
By briefly explaining your why the other person will understand and accept your respectful no.
“Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”
— Peter Drucker
8. Thank you so much for asking. Can you keep me on your list for next year?
In this case, you say “no” without actually saying no. It indicates you can’t find the time this year but would be interested next year. You leave the door open and let the other know that you want to help.
Still, to get your help, the other side needs to check-in at another point. There’s a high chance the second check-in will never happen. At the same time, the other person will keep you in good memory because of your willingness to help.
9. I am unable to say yes due to commitments that leave me unavailable until the end of the month.
This is a combination of the previous answers. It combines a time-bound aspect with a reason why you can’t say yes right now.
Again, make sure you don’t overexplain. Doing so suggests that you feel guilty about the refusal. Instead, keep your response straightforward.
I got this “no” many times when asking young professionals to volunteer as mentors for kids who are the first in their family to study.
It’s a great way to say no, as you give back the responsibility to act to the person asking. Now, it’s in my hands to follow-up after the month.
10. I’m learning to limit my commitments.
While this might sound unprofessional coming from a 40-year old business owner, it’s a great phrase for a person early in their career. It shows that you’re learning.
By stating you’re trying to learn here, you’ll trigger a supportive reaction from the other person. By accepting your “no,” the other individual feels they helped.
11. No, I’m not the best fit for it.
You want the project to be successful, but you’re not the right person to help. You made a valid point by demonstrating that you have the best intention in mind.
I was grateful when a potential speaker for our conference sent me this response. Better, to know beforehand that a person is not the right fit than when it’s too late.
12. No, sorry, sounds great, but I’d rather not.
This is borrowed from Ryan Holiday. Again, this one takes some courage as you don’t offer any explanation for your “no.”
To be honest, I still need some practice before I dare to use this one, so I can’t give you any insights on your counterpart’s reaction.
“Always Think About What You’re Really Being Asked to Give. Because the Answer Is Often a Piece of Your Life, Usually in Exchange for Something, You Don’t Even Want. Remember That That’s What Time Is. It’s Your Life, It’s Your Flesh and Blood, That You Can Never Get back.”
— Ryan Holiday
13. I’m going to say no for now. I’ll let you know if something changes.
Again, this one leaves the door open. Yet, you only get back if something changes.
As a default, the other person will not hear from you again. Thereby, you don’t set unrealistic expectations. In case you get back, the other person will be delighted as she didn’t expect it.
14. No, thanks.
Short and effective yet challenging to master. Remember that a clear “no” can be more graceful than a vague or noncommittal “yes.”
Firm but friendly boundaries lead to greater satisfaction in your life.
Finally, here are common ways how NOT to say no.
- I only say yes to very select opportunities, and unfortunately, this doesn’t meet my criteria.
Deed. No empathy here.
- Let me think about that.
This “nay” is a very weak answer. Neither yes, nor no.
- I’d love to, but I’m already overcommitted.
It sounds like you can’t prioritize and don’t have your shit together.
- I’m going to have to exert my NO muscle on this one.
Don’t make a “no” about yourself. The request is about the other person.
- No, sorry, I’m not taking on new things.
Instead of demonstrating focus, this makes you sound narrow-minded.
Practice Saying No
Saying no is a skill you can learn. And, when delivered with respectfulness and tact, a “no” can be the fastest way to success.
Remember that every “yes” means a “no” to a million other things. And by saying no to 95% of all requests, you’ll make your “yeses” a lot more meaningful.
Choose your favorite phrases, try some of them, and skip the rest.
By using them, you’ll, step by step, reclaim your focus and find yourself on your path towards a happier, wealthier, and more meaningful life.
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