How To Learn To Say “No”: Step By Step Instructions

Principles that need to be mastered in order to be able to refuse – on time and on business

“Take the burden on your own, so as not to fall when walking,” says folk wisdom. In everyday terms: you are unlikely to be productive if you take on too many obligations. At least the result will not be good and probably not on time. But you are used to lending your shoulder without refusal and are tired, hoping that your bosses will appreciate your zeal, reward you with a salary increase and career take-off, and everyone else will be sincerely grateful or at least admired.

In fact, the authorities have no time to notice your work, especially if you pick up everything that falls on you without further ado – the work is done, and well. Colleagues are usually skeptical of other people’s workaholism or are happy to unload themselves by transferring part of the tasks to you. Speaking of life away from the office, helping friends and family is a sacred thing, but they can simply not represent your workload and demand more each time, believing that it really will not be difficult for you. This is how you answer them, adding the usual: “Yes, of course!”.

Meanwhile, tasks and requests are pouring in on you like from a cornucopia – by phone, mail, instant messenger or in person. And, probably, you already understood: in order to slow down the pace of growing stress, it’s time to learn to say “no”, although thoughts are obsessively spinning in your head: “What if this ruins the relationship?”, “What if it disappoints the boss?”. NO. Nothing like that will happen. If you feel that you are stuck in excessive obligations, urgently master the art of refusal.

Below is a selection of basic steps in the art of saying no: seven rules and three tactics for advanced cases.


Clearly define your workload and professionalism – it will be easier to understand how much your time is really worth, at work and beyond. When someone wants to challenge you with a new task, mentally try it on in your daily schedule and if it takes more than two minutes to think about it, refuse. You are already loaded to the eyeballs – so explain the situation.


Even if you happen to have free time – on rare weekends or on weekday evenings – this is not a reason to give it to everyone who does not want to cope without help. Are you really ready to exchange a long-awaited vacation with your loved one or family for what you are asked for?


Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at rejection. Sometimes repeating this magic word is the only way to ward off extremely persistent people. Stand your ground, in the end they will understand that you are not joking.


A common mistake is to start a rejection with “I’m sorry, but…” because you hope it sounds polite. Perhaps it’s just that it’s not worth the trouble to crush this apologetic tone – you won’t even notice how you are quickly persuaded to agree. You must be firm and categorical, protecting your time, there is nothing to apologize for.


It is dangerous to be polite, and to be good for everyone is completely fraught with a decrease in self-esteem – to the point of completely nullifying personal interests. The easier it is for people to grab your time (“Oh, she’s so sweet, she’s always helpful!”), the more willingly they’ll be doing it. But if they realize that you’ve set up a hard barrier against leaks of excessive kindness, they’ll switch to easier targets.


It is not true, this does not mean that you are completely unrestrained, defending your micro-freedom. First, it was not in the contract. Secondly, by giving you too much responsibility, management risks the quality of your work. If they want to add tasks to you, let them determine when you will solve those that have already been. At the same time and for the same salary – no, thank you.


Sometimes it is easier to prevent an impending task than to refuse it. If you know you’re going to be approached with a request, it makes sense to take the initiative and announce (at a flier or at lunch): “Guys, just so you know – this week I’m fully staffed, I can’t find an hour” .


Simple language that will help soften the rejection – for those who find a firm “no” difficult.

“I’ll be back with an answer”

Instead of slashing, the person who comes with the request can be told that you will think a little and give an answer – not necessarily positive.

“Let’s talk later”

Another “soft” option that works when you want to leave the question open – in that rare case, if you change your mind.

“This is not for me”

Sounds like a Tinder photo rating, but it works for all occasions: you can sincerely praise an idea, a project, a person, and say that it just isn’t right for you, at least not right now.