How to Say No (When You Know What You Want)

My Dad taught me the importance of keeping the “end in mind” when managing time. As a result, I pause and think before accepting an invitation. In business school, a friend teased me about this habit, but it was rooted in an understanding of my calendar and my process for getting my reading and work in.[1] With clear priorities and goals, having approaches for saying “no” with respect and rigor keeps your time properly allocated.

No is a resource allocation tool to meet your goals.

However, choosing “no” differs from saying “no.” There are many ways to get the message across. We have options in how we communicate choices. Remember the goal: get to where you want to be, whether at home writing or in bed sleeping or pumping iron at the gym. Just begin with the end in mind.

Three Ways to Say No

  • Leverage the calendar. The calendar documents commitments and obligations. For me, things that don’t make the calendar, whether a workout or deadline or date night, don’t really exist. With an invite, using a calendar provides a reliable, respected, and repeatable process. 
    • “Let me check the date on our calendar and get back to you…”
    • “I would love to help, but I…am booked that day…have a deadline…made a commitment.”
  • Have a policy. For example, at Forisk, we only consult with firms that subscribe to our research. Having clear rules provides clarity and simplicity, and most folks and firms respect this.
    • “That’s past my 9pm bedtime.”
    • “We don’t work on Saturdays.” 
  • Leave the decision with someone else. Typically, we do not operate in vacuums.
    • “My coach…wife…boss…astrologer sets the schedule. Let me check in and get back to you…”

Keep It Simple

Avoid detailed reasons or rambling. Thank the person for the invite, say you’re unable to make it and move on. “Thank you and good luck. Hope the event is a great success!” And you mean that. Be polite; avoid abruptness. It’s simply an offer to respectfully decline because it does not fit with your schedule (and your schedule is set by your priorities, in advance, but you don’t need to get into that story….)

If you want, offer an alternative, which can also create an opportunity for someone else. “Hey, I can’t make this, but Phil on our team would be great for this. If okay with you, let me check with him on his availability…” This can help everyone, as Phil may really appreciate this, too.

Conclusion

Know your priorities. Use a calendar. Grow the ability to say “no” with grace and integrity. Having reliable and respectful ways to say decline invitations saves time, maintains relationships, and keeps you on track. 

“People are effective because they say ‘no,’ because they say, ‘this isn’t for me.’”

Peter Drucker

[1] I HATE going back on obligations, so it was a defensive mechanism, as well.

1 Comment

  1. Lawrence B Schiamberg

    February 27, 2022 at 10:07 am

    Excellent advice for all professional people!

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