Warren Buffet believes the difference between successful and unsuccessful people is the ability to say NO! Too often we feel obligated to say yes.  We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, or seem unappreciative, or feel guilty.  We, therefore, find saying no challenging.  But, those who find consistent and high levels of achievement have discovered that saying ‘no’ is essential to their success.

People lacking the ability to say NOwhen appropriate consequently struggle to find time to focus on the truly important tasks that will make them successful.  They are drowning in a sea of saying ‘yes’ and resentfully labor on tasks holding greater benefit for others than themselves.  For those people, they need to either: a) resign themselves to a career bringing then little joy, or b) learn to say NO!

Why you need to say NO!  Success is a planned process undertaken to promote your priorities, achieve your goals, and bring your vision of success to life.  If what you are being asked to do by others aligns with what you need to do to meet your goals, then by all means say yes, and benefit two people rather than one. But if what you are asked to do takes you away from where you want to go, the distraction will delay or even derail your success.

We often suffer the delusion that we can accomplish what we need to do andwhat others ask us to do.  This results in us stretching an already full schedule leading in tasks receiving less time than they need to be done well and getting burnt out from being overworked and underappreciated.  You must learn to say NO!

How to say NO!

It can be difficult learning saying “no” without sacrificing the goodwill of your colleagues. Here are five ways to do just that while remaining guilt-free and friends.

  1. Ask for time to consider the request. It is common to quickly pull the ‘yes’ trigger without carefully considering the consequences to your time and attention.  Explain that your schedule is very tight at the moment, but you know what they are asking is important, so ask for time to consider the request and see what might be juggled or struck from you schedule. And then do give it serious thought (24 hours should be sufficient).  If there are major benefits to you saying ‘yes’ then do and eliminate something from your ‘to do’ list. But if it is unlikely that fulfilling this request has strong benefits for you, the answer must be no and the reason is you don’t have the time to adequately meet the request and aren’t likely to in the near future.
  2. Explain your NO. Explain the logic of your decision in terms of the consequences for saying ‘yes’.  For example, if you say ‘yes’ to this request, others will ask the same of you and you just can’t afford to set that precedent or you lack the skill to meet the request, or it is something that you don’t have an interest in getting involved with, or you just don’t have time.  “I’m sorry, but I just can’t fit that into my schedule at the moment,” or “That just isn’t something I feel comfortable doing (or can do well)” or “I’m sorry, if I do that for you, I’d feel obligated to do that for everyone, and I just can’t do that” are all reasonable responses.
  3. “I can give you a ‘yes’, if you can…” If you are willing to give, the asker may be willing to give as well. Depending on the request, you might give a “yes” if they can help you with one of your tasks (otherwise you may not have the time or resources), if you finish your project on time, if they provide a resource to lighten your goal-oriented burden you would have the time to fulfill their request.
  4. “I have already overcommitted.” Regardless of how or why you say no, do notblame your Noon someone else. That makes you look weak rather than in command of your own destiny.  Better to be honest and just say you have a full agenda and what they are asking would prevent you from making good on what you are already obligated to do.
  5. “Maybe tomorrow (or next week, or next month)?” If you NOis strictly due to a resource constraint and no other reason, a yes may be considered in the future—but not promised. Budgetary restraints, time constraints or limited resources may prevent you from giving permission for something you believe is a worthy project. The message here should not be a ‘future yes’, but rather a future reconsideration of their request.
  6. “That is not something I am equipped to do.” This conveys the message that you do not feel qualified to do what is being asked of you. While manipulative people will try talking you into doing it anyway, hold firm because you don’t do shoddy work and what they are asking is not something you feel you can do to a good standard.
  7. “Provide an alternative.” While you may not be able to fulfil their request, you may know someone who can, or you may be able to provide another resource to help them meet their needs.

Help where and when you can, but when the choice puts your success in peril keep your focus on what will make you achieve your goals.  And one strategy needed to make that happen is learning to say NO!


Gallo, A. (2017). HBR’s Best on Saying No to More Work. Harvard Business Review

            Digital Articles, 2–4.

Harris, A. D. (2019). It’s OK to Say No to Customers: Strategies to handle the why

and how of saying no. Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News, 18–19.

Kander, D. (2017). Help Your Team Stop Overcommitting by Empowering Them to Say

No. Harvard Business Review Digital Articles, 2–5.

© 2019 Dr. Paul Schempp is an award-winning researcher, keynote speaker, author, consultant and recognized authority on leading high performing team. To have Paul speak at your next event, call 706.202.0516, email him at Dr.Schempp@PerformanceMattersInc.com or visit his website www.PerformanceMattersInc.com