How To Say NO And Make It Stick

By: Marcia Zidle, M.S. N.C.C.B.C.C.

Who hasn't been guilty of overbooking themselves between their personal and professional lives? But often instead of a feeling of elation for making everything "work," we feel stressed out and burnt out. Peter Bergman, in his Harvard Business Review blog, ( shares ways to say a strategic "no" in order to create space in your life for a more intentional "yes."

1. Know your no.
Identify what's important to you and acknowledge what's not. If you don't know where you want to spend your time, you won't know where you don't want to spend your time. Before you can say no with confidence, you have to be clear that you want to say no.

2. Be appreciative.
When people ask for your help it’s usually because they trust you and they believe in your capabilities to help. So thank them for thinking of you or making the request/invitation. You can leave the door open by saying: I can’t do it now, but get back to me at a specific time – that’s only if you mean it.

3. Say no to the request, not the person.
You're not rejecting the person, just declining the request. So make that clear. You can also explain the reason. Maybe you're too busy. Maybe you don't feel like what they're asking you to do plays to your strengths. Be honest about why you're saying no.

4. Establish a pre-emptive no.
We all have certain people in our lives who tend to make repeated, sometimes burdensome requests of us. In those cases, it's better to say no before the request even comes in. Let that person know that you're hyper-focused on a couple of things in your life and trying to reduce your obligations in all other areas.

5. Be prepared to miss out.
Some of us have a hard time saying no because we hate to miss an opportunity. And saying no always leads to a missed opportunity. But it's not just a missed opportunity; it's a tradeoff. Remind yourself that when you're saying no to the request, you are simultaneously saying yes to something you value more than the request. Both are opportunities. You're just choosing one over the other.

6. Gather your courage.
If you're someone who is used to saying yes, it will take courage to say no. You may feel like a bad friend. You might feel like you're letting someone down or not living up to expectations. Maybe you'll imagine that you'll be seen or talked about in a negative light. Those things might be the cost of reclaiming your life. You'll need courage to put up with them.

Smart Moves Tip:

Even when you've said yes, you can change your mind and renegotiate. Find a substitute, change the deadline or scope of the request or whatever might work to keep you in good graces. Remember, things change – projects are pushed up; a staff member is out for a month; or a new boss unexpectedly arrives. Life changes and so priorities change. So don’t get locked into “ have to do it because I said yes.”

Marcia Zidle, M.S. N.C.C.B.C.C. is a board certified coach who provides executive coaching to business and community leaders and management teams to leverage their skills, strengths and style for high performance. Go to to sign up for the smart moves blog and free success e-books. Listen to her weekly internet radio program "The Business Edge" for Voice America Wednesdays at 2pm EST at can contact Marcia at 972-380-9281 or