The Art of Saying No & Scripts to Get It Done

Reality check- what we say yes and no to shapes our lives.

Most of us don’t say no often enough and we end up taking on way too much. We allow scope creep because we don’t say no. We get frustrated and cranky because we don’t say no. We burn out because we don’t say no. Saying no can feel awkward, and downright terrifying. For most of us, it seems impossible and laughable to think of saying no. But sometimes (a lot of times), it’s actually required.

We Don’t Say No Because

  • We are afraid that it would be career suicide.
  • It makes us feel like failures.
  • We struggle to put ourselves first.
  • It feels selfish.
  • We don’t know how the other person will react.
  • We fear not being liked.
  • We have forgotten what we want to say yes to.

Why Is Saying No Important?

Because when you say yes and you really mean no you end up overwhelmed, less productive, unfocused.

Because when you don’t say no and wish you had, you end up feeling bad and guilty and waste energy and time beating yourself up.

Because no creates the space so you can say yes to what you really want to. There are only so many hours in a day, and so many days in a lifetime. Your power lies in your choices. In all of them. Don’t let your yes’ – the things that call you, fuel you, and propel you- live on the margins of your life. Let your yes be the core of your life and your work.

Because what you put your attention on grows. If you focus the majority of your attention on the things you would prefer not to be doing, guess what you are sowing in your life? A bounty full of what you don’t want.

Because boundaries are good and necessary. They help keep out what doesn’t serve you and they allow you the space to focus on your work and deliver it effectively and efficiently.

Signs It’s Time to Start Saying No (and Creating Space for Yes)

  • It feels heavy in your stomach, or tight in your throat, or it feels hard to breathe.
  • It feels like all your energy is draining out of you.
  • You find yourself lying or avoiding or making excuses.
  • You find yourself swearing, venting and complaining on a consistent basis.
  • You say things like ‘ I wish there were more hours in the day’, ‘ I don’t know how I can get this all done’, “ I hate this work’.
  • You forget what daylight looks like.
  • The people you care about most are beginning to forget what you look like.
  • You really wish you didn’t have to say no to other things. Again.
  • You aren’t excited by the request and it feels like a ‘should’.
  • You have become a cranky martyr


Sometimes you aren’t even asked. Sometimes it’s an email and it’s a directive. Sometimes it’s a conversation.

You might find yourself assigned more work, sans discussion. De facto. Just an inbox directive to deliver. Colleagues might have dropped a mountain of files on your desk for you.

Or maybe you said yes and now you regret it. You are in over your head and need to re-prioritize.

Every situation will vary, but saying no can be rooted in choice and delivered with respect, dignity and grace. Here is a script that can help you frame your response. 

1.   Acknowledge the request

  • I know this (project/meeting/assignment) is (important/critical/high priority) to (you/the team/client).
  • I appreciate the confidence you have in my (abilities/skills).
  • Thanks for thinking of me for this project. Your confidence in my skills is (appreciated/means a lot/a good ego boost).

 2. Acknowledge what you are feeling

  • I am able to deliver my best work when (I focus on one task at a time/ I have sufficient time/I have time to replenish).
  • I am feeling (overwhelmed/over extended/at max capacity/ I don’t have enough hours in the day).
  • I hate to admit it but I can’t meet the expectations on this.

 3. Give context

  • Right now, I am focused on delivering (A, B, C). It’s currently manageable, and I need to keep it that way.
  • I have a few deadlines on the horizon and I need to ensure I meet those.
  • I made a commitment to (myself/myfamily/mycommunity/an organization) to (show up/deliver/ participate in). Taking this on wouldn’t allow me to fulfill that commitment.

4. Provide alternatives

  • Have you thought about (Jane/Joe) for this? I am not sure of their availability but s/he has some great skills to bring to this project.

5. Offer to meet in the middle

*  Only do this if saying no is in fact not an option. You can say yes to what is required while setting clear and supportive boundaries for yourself.

  • Here is what I can do. I am able to deliver what you need by (insert timeframe that is reasonable for you).
  • If this is the highest priority, and I am the only one who can do this, then I’d appreciate it if you could help me prioritize my other responsibilities. If you can help me (delegate my other projects or postpone A,B,C) then I can focus on this and get it to you by (insert timeframe that is reasonable for you).

6. Sometimes you learn that there is no middle and a hard No is required

Here are ways to say no, firmly and kindly:

  • I am not able to do this.
  • I can’t commit to this.
  • I have to say no.
  • I want to be the best team player possible, which makes it really hard to say no. But I have to say no.


* Excerpt from Be Awesome At Work– A Guide to Saying No, Asking For What You Need & Giving Constructive Feedback. 

2 thoughts on “The Art of Saying No & Scripts to Get It Done

  1. Joseph

    Your article has brought so much relief to me. I have on many occasions taken up task and project that have burned me out . On these occasions I have felt saying no represents weakness. Nice piece on how to professional say no! Thanks so much

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