“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
— STEVE JOBS
Whether you strive to avoid conflict, appearing rude, burning bridges or missing that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity… Saying “no” to others isn’t always easy. But it’s a message that can be delivered with love and compassion. In fact, start thinking about it this way:
Saying no is an act of kindness.
It’s an act of kindness to yourself, as well as the people around you. Think about it. Do you want to go out for coffee with a mentor who’s stretched to the max and resentful? Do you want your star employee to stay silent if she’s drowning under too many projects?
Of course not. You want the people you care about to be happy and sane! Those people must also include you. Saying no doesn’t limit your opportunities either — it opens you up to the right ones.
Challenge yourself to reframe “no” into an act of kindness. Here are 19 word-for-word scripts that can help. Read ‘em all or jump straight to the scenario you need now.
Before We Start, Read This First...
Of course, it’s not just about the words you use, but how you say them. If you
want to say no with grace and compassion, keep these tips in mind:
And remember… These scripts are here to help you learn how to say no with kindness. But don’t feel stifled by the phrasing as they’re just starter suggestions. Feel free to swap out words so it feels natural and appropriate given the context and specifics of your situation.
How To Say No - To Your Boss
There are two reasons you might need to say no to your boss. Here’s how to do both right.
REASON #1: YOU DON'T HAVE THE TIME - If you genuinely don’t have the bandwidth to take on another project, try this:
Why it works: The question, “Can we look at my priorities?” shows that you’re on top of things. It also reminds your boss that there are consequences to shifting your focus.
REASON #2: YOU DON'T AGREE WITH THE REQUEST - If you’ve been asked to take on a project that you don’t agree with — whether in its objective or scope — reframe your response to something like:
proves you’re invested in the outcome and committed to helping the team
How To Say No - To a Friend
When it comes to your friends, the biggest “no” generator usually involves a
favor. Here are two different ways to approach this type of request:
APPROACH #1: YOU HAVE A RULE. - If someone asks for a favor that could potentially backfire — whether it’s letting them drive your expensive car or risking a valuable relationship — here’s what you can say:
Why it works: Once you complete this sentence with their big ask (i.e. “loan
money to friends” or “introduce friends to clients”) it becomes super clear
that you’re not singling them out as unreliable.
APPROACH #2 : YOU'RE ALREADY OVERSTRETCHED & OVERCOMMITTED - If you’ve ever been asked to babysit, move boxes or contribute to a bake sale, you can say:
Why it works: It’s simple, truthful and clear.
How To Say No - To People Who Want to Pick Your Brain
To be clear, I’m all for being generous and sharing your knowledge to help others get ahead. Heck, I’ve been sharing my best free advice on my blog. That said, when you earn a living from your knowledge, it’s important to set boundaries that honor your time and energy. My mentor has a great analogy about “brain pickers” that can help shift your mindset about giving advice.
He says: “Would you ever walk into a store, grab a bunch of clothes off the rack and walk out without paying? Of course not. That would be stealing."
So ‘brainpicker’ don’t expect to walk into my head, grab everything you
want and walk out without paying.”
If you find yourself stretched to the max with offering free advice, here are two ways to redirect “brain picker” requests into something more efficient and rewarding for both of you:
REDIRECT #1: ASK WHAT THE Y REALLY WANT. - People usually want to pick your brain because they need something. You can save time and still be helpful by simply asking what they want.
Why it works: This reply forces them get clear about what they want from
you. If they’re interested in becoming a customer, you can direct them to
your sales material. If they have a question, this gently reminds them to be
mindful of your time.
REDIRECT #2 : SEND THEM TO YOUR PRODUCTS OR SERVICES - Here’s classy way to steer freebie-seekers toward your paid offerings:
If you don’t have a product or program, try this:
Why it works: By gently guiding people to your products or services, you’re reminding them that this is your job and not a hobby. If you get a lot of brain picking requests, it might be time to consider turning your previously free advice into a new revenue stream.
REDIRECT #3 : SEND THEM TO YOUR FREE BLOG POSTS, ARTICLES, OR VIDEOS - If you’ve been sharing free content online, direct them to it:
Why it works: You’re setting a clear boundary around your time and helping
them get the answers they need. Win-win.
How To Say No To - Clients & Customers
Sometimes clients ask for things that you can’t, won’t or don’t have time to
do. Here’s how to say no in each scenario:
SCENARIO #1: THEIR REQUEST IS NOT IN YOUR WHEELHOUSE. - Are you a photographer who’s been asked to plan the wedding? A designer asked to write website copy? Try this:
Get specific here or be prepared elaborate because you’ll likely get some push back.
Another way to approach this situation is to to refer your client to someone who can help. For example:
Why it works: Referrals are an amazing way to support your client, grow your network and keep everyone working in their zone of genius.
SCENARIO #2: YOUR SCHEDULE IS FULL. - If taking on even one more project is gonna put you on the fast train to Burnout City, just say no. And this:
Why it works: By calling out your inability to “do a good job” you’re showing
how much care you put into each project.
SCENARIO #3: THEIR REQUEST IS OUTSIDE OF YOUR ORIGINAL PROJECT SCOPE. - If you get a request that’s not a definite “no” but will require more money to inspire a “yes,” try this:
Why it works: “Scope creep” happens to nearly every service provider on the planet. But if you bring up the original agreement, you’re reminding them that anything extra will cost extra. Just make sure to be crystal clear what you need from them to make it happen so they can make a smart choice in either direction.
How To Say No To Requests For - Collaborations & Promotions
The only time you should ever promote something is because you genuinely believe in it. Trust from your audience takes a long time to build, so never recommend products out of loyalty, obligation or guilt.
If someone asks you to promote their work or collaborate, but you’re just not interested, here are two ironclad reasons you can use:
REASONS #1: YOU DIDN'T SEEK IT OUT YOURSELF - You can use this script to decline the request, while still cheering them on:
Why it works: Citing a personal policy shows that it’s not about them, it’s about protecting the trust you’ve built with your audience.
REASON #2: YOU NEED TO FOCUS ON YOUR OWN PROJECTS. - If the collaboration request doesn’t fit into your schedule or align with your goals, say this:
Why it works: It’s honest and relatable while still providing heartfelt encouragement.
How To Say No To - Everyone Else
Here are some simple ways to say no to everyone else — even if it’s your mom’s 17th suggestion that you’d “really hit it off ” with her friend’s son who just moved to town.
YOU’RE TOO BUSY.
YOU HAVE A COUNTEROFFER.
YOU’RE NOT INTERESTED.
BUT WHAT IF…
THEY TRY TO NEGOTIATE
IT’S A UNIVERSAL NO
Use this for meetings, interviews, investment opportunities, new clients, etc.
YOU CAN’T REPLY INDIVIDUALLY, BUT YOU DON’T WANT BLOW PEOPLE OFF
Use an email autoreply with one of the scripts above. This allows you to honor someone’s inquiry without spending a ton of time responding to emails. The best part is that if you see a request later that’s actually a yes, you can always change your mind. (Who doesn’t love a general no that becomes a personalized yes?)
So there you have it, The Ultimate Guide To Saying No. Do you see how the word “No” doesn’t have to be rude? It’s both a kind and expansive act — for you and others.
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