Leadership – The Art of Saying No


How many times have you taken on extra assignments at work to help colleagues or clients with projects that aren’t your responsibility? How many times have you done a favour for a friend or colleague which has impacted on your ability to manage your workload or your family time?

Saying no is hard….but living the life you don’t want to lead because you cannot say no is much harder.

Though it’s nice to help, I suspect many of these extra assignments and favours could have been done by someone else, or even the person who asked you to help them in the first place?

Ask yourself this question ……

if you find yourself overburdened with tasks and responsibilities you are not passionate about, who and what suffers as a result?


Here are three of my tips on “the art of saying no”;

1 – Get yourself a PAUSE button – and use it!

In the heat of the moment it can be difficult to say no, especially if you care about the people or cause and where you don’t have the time or resources to commit.

Make time your friend. Don’t answer right away. Buy yourself time to think about the request by thanking them for the opportunity, requesting some time to think about it, and even perhaps proposing a specific time to get back to them. Most people will understand this and you’ll be able to buy time for yourself in the process.


2 – It’s OK to say no

It’s a perfectly acceptable response. But if you are someone with high levels of empathy you might be more concerned about disappointing your friend, and how bad that will then make you feel. That’s admirable, but how about you and your feelings and the other people who are relying on you and your time? If you say yes to everything and everyone, you’ll end up without the time or energy to do what you want or need to do in order to unwind or create time for your friends and family. Is that what you, or the person who has asked you to help them, really want?

So, instead of thinking about “no” as a bad thing, think about it as saying “yes” to your team, your family and any other commitments you really need to prioritise. If you say yes to the right things, those that you really care about and are important both personally and professionally, it will feel much more legitimate and comfortable to say no when the time comes.


3 – Get better at crafting your reason

If you’re not used to saying no, it can be quite hard to get the language right, and be assertive without hurting people’s feelings, or getting into conflict. So use empathy. Consider the person making the request, but still give a clear and legitimate reason for saying no, and potentially offer some options.

Remember also that the person asking you to help them might not realise how busy you are. You might actually be giving them the impression that you have some spare capacity.

For example:

I appreciate you thinking of me, but I’ve just got too much on my plate at the moment and I cannot commit to any more projects until March


I am happy to help – however, if I do then I will need you to help me adjust my current workload. I am currently working on X, Y and Z. Which projects do you want to stop doing or delegate to someone else?


In business, asking others to do more for you because you can’t say no is a value destroyer at best, and a crippling failure of leadership at worst.

As ever, it all starts with a PAUSE!