Saying NO


I regularly end up saying YES to initiatives that I should have declined. A colleague of mine recently compared me to the main character in “Yes Man”. I enjoyed the comedy, but signing up for everything means lack of priorities, no distinction between what is essential and what is not. Or having too much time.

Why don’t we want to say yes to all

I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure - which is: Try to please everybody
Herbert Bayard Swope

One of the main reasons I am eagerly saying YES because I am afraid I could miss out on exceptional opportunities. But interestingly, when you are busy on handling all incoming requests, it’s easy to decline the best ones. Saying NO doesn’t mean you are a douchebag. Saying NO is a way to block out 99% of the noise to focus on things that matter.

Protect your time as you protect your money

We don’t allow people to take your money. Why then we make it easy for people to grab our time (and eventually - money).

Understand influence techniques

Don’t get tricked into saying YES. One of the advice I heard from Tim Ferriss is to take your time. If someone wants an answer now, the default answer should be NO. Rethink it in silence. Don’t make a decision straight away, give it a thought. Sometimes, people will use techniques to persuade you:

  • Social Proof - “look, others have agreed.”
  • Authority - “professionals like x and y are in this field as well.”
  • Framing - “such opportunity might never come again.”
  • Anchoring - “you need to dedicate only 2 hours a week.”
  • Liking - “he cannot lie, he is a trustworthy person.”
  • Scarcity - “only 2 Xbox’es left at this store.”
  • Reciprocity - “it is nice to agree because he did a favor to you.”
  • Unity - “look, we are in this situation together.”

If you like it, that doesn’t mean you should be a part of it

Supporting doesn’t mean joining. Tim Ferriss while working on his new book, Tribe of Mentors, planned to interview many well-known people. He got a few rejection letters, with some great phrases:

  • “I respect you and your work. I am honored that you asked me to participate. However I am going to say thank you, and I am going to pass.”
  • “Recently, I maxed out a lot. I worked hard on new projects and initiatives. It’s time for me to enjoy doing nothing.”
  • “I thought very carefully about this, as it is clearly a wonderful opportunity, but I am going to decline with gratitude.”
  • “It’s not personal. I am following this policy now of not starting new initiatives.”

Saying NO can be a good thing. You want to dedicate yourself to existing commitments. People might not like it, they might be upset, but they will respect you.

Keep it binary

What if we say YES only to requests that we are excited about? Once the rubber hits the road, once we encounter issues, no matter how motivated we were in the beginning - enthusiasm decreases. Let’s make sure to start on a hill.

It might work for personal projects, but I don’t think it is a good long-term idea to be that picky at work. Instead, you might shift your focus to finding out what has to be done from your side to make that request a HELL YES.

Don’t postpone it

Ohh, I don’t want to deal with this. Let’s hope this goes away. Guess what? Some people are very persistent, and probably they will come back. Crossing fingers and hoping that something will go away is not the best strategy. And finally, you are not doing any favor to a person. You just might impact their plans.

No means no now. Don’t postpone it; otherwise, you might enter a vicious cycle of lies.

When to say yes?

Further reading / watching / listening:

Leo Babauta - The Gentle Art of Saying No

How to Say No to Anyone

Tribe of Mentors podcast - Saying No

Ask Gary Vee 271

I'm Valdas Maksimavicius. I write about data, cloud technologies and personal development. You can find more about me here.