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How to Say No (Without Being A Total Jerk)

Real Life

No one likes to hear the word “no,” especially in response to a reasonable request, but sometimes, it’s the kindest thing for all involved.

Trust me, I know. It feels uncomfortable and like you’re a total B, devoid of feeling and kindness for others. When I started saying no to others’ requests on my time, it felt super-crunchy.

But I decided that my business fuels everything I want to do. As such, I had to choose it (and making a sustainable income) over popping down to the store to see if they have that one thing my aunt needs…and could drive over and get herself.

Saying no not only gives you a chance to do something you want and/or need to do, it gives the person you’re refusing the request from a chance to practice being self-sufficient and creatively solving their problem, too.

Here’s why no might just become your new favorite word in business (and how you can say no, politely, too). 

Why No Is Your New Favorite Word

Is your most important priority your business? I’m sure you’re thinking, “YES! Of course! Duh, Eryn!”

And I’d have to ask: Are you backing that up with your actions? Words are meaningless without action attached to them!

For example: How many times has a family member asked you to do something because you “work from home”? It’s like they forget the important word in that phrase… Work! 

While, yes, you have more time freedom than someone who is constrained by a boss and office walls for 8 hours, you also have more pressure on your shoulders to produce in those same 8 hours.

(After all, you’re balancing a lot in life and in business. Chauffeuring kids, taking the dog out, making dinner, and making a sustainable income.)

Listen, I understand that it’s hard to say no, especially when it’s a well-meaning request and especially when you don’t like to disappoint people. But really, saying no to interruptions is saying YES to your business and all it allows you to do. 

Success Tip: No is not a curse word.

How I Learned to Say No

When I first realized how often I was pausing my work to bail someone else out, it was a lightbulb moment for me. No wonder it felt like I was “doing” but not “producing.”

Saying no required a mindset shift. I’m sure you’re surprised (I’m kidding. You know I’m all about suggesting mindset shifts).

Saying no requires a firm belief in yourself, your priority, and your values. You cannot produce quality, valuable work in your business while you’re distracted eleventy million times a day. Your brain literally cannot shift that quickly. (It takes almost 30 minutes to refocus and “get back in the zone” of what you were working on after an interruption.)

I’m not going to make you track your time to prove how much of your time someone else is claiming. I have a feeling you know if it’s a problem, and the goal here isn’t to make you feel bad about texts and the more literal in-your-face distractions like kiddos and dogs.

But I am going to ask you to notice opportunities to practice saying no. Further, record how much time you now have in your day because you said you can’t drive your cousin’s kid to soccer practice.

And now… Here’s how to say no politely and get your time back.

How to Say No (And Reclaim Your Time)

As I’ve mentioned, saying no was initially very crunchy for me. Lots of negative stories and feelings came up. After practicing some kind self-talk and putting together a system I could use every time a request came to me, I got better at saying no and claiming my time as the CEO of my company. And here’s how you can, too.

First, I asked myself if the request would help me. (And pause…before you think it, focusing on your business and goals in this context is not selfish. I didn’t say you’d never say yes again… you just need to start keeping other people’s agendas from pulling you away from your business goals.)

Would help increase my income, gain business, and/or bring me more time, clients, support, and so on?

If yes, I honored the request.

If no, I followed this format:

  • Say no, but thank them for thinking of you.
  • Offer an alternative (“I can’t right now, but I’m able to go on Saturday. Would that work?”)

From there, I built up my saying-no muscle and slowly started to not offer the alternative if I truly didn’t want to do something. Or, when I could see it would be easy for them to creatively solve the problem without my assistance, I’d encourage them to do so.

Alexandra Franzen has two amazing resources for responding with a polite-yet-firm no. First, How To Say No To Anything Ever. She walks through the 5 steps of “letting someone down nicely” along with examples of what to write in each.

Second, in The 7 Emails Nobody Wants to Receive — And How To Answer Each With Love, she offers 7 fill-in-the-blank email responses to the types of requests you’re most likely to see in your inbox. Generally, she’s following her same format for saying no, but with more specifics (like if someone didn’t read your FAQ page and sent you a list of questions you’ve already answered…on that page).

So, here’s the thing about learning to say no: It takes time and practice. You will say yes to things you don’t really want to do or have time for. And that’s okay. Let that be a reminder the next time a request comes to you. You can do way more in 2 hours of focused effort than you can do in 8 hours of shoddy, interrupted work. Imagine if you had 8 hours of focused effort!

That can be your reality. It just takes a mindset shift to really embrace your value and your role as the CEO of your company… And a little practice.

Ready to step into your success story? Join me every Saturday in your inbox for a virtual cup of coffee and Saturday Synergy emails! We’ll chat about business, life, and maybe (definitely) personal behind-the-scenes thoughts I only share with subscribers.

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