Saying “No” Actually Can Make You a More Flexible Person

“I can’t give you a surefire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure; try to please everybody all the time.” — Herbert Bayard Swope, First receptionist of the Pulitzer Prize

By the end of this article, you will be able to say “No” and be loved for it!

They never say “No” to any assignment. Each side project and every little task get dumped on their plate because they are known as the “get-it-done” person. They are afraid to say “No” because they do not want to be accused of not being a team player or viewed as inflexible.

This is the 9th in a series of steps to become better organized.

Wait a second! Is that you? Then you really need this article.

aaaaapalmTo illustrate: Palm trees are known for their flexibility and resiliency during hurricanes. Still, even the strongest palm tree will find that flexibility only goes so far. Eventually, the ground might give way or an object, like another tree or a car, can dislodge or snap the tree.

Likewise, even the strongest “Yes-Man” can only bend so far before they snap, lose their foundation (a.k.a. sanity), or are devastated by external forces (like an unreasoanble boss). The fact is, learning to say “No” can have several benefits in the workplace:

  1. It creates realistic ideas about what it takes for the average employee to do prescribed work.
  2. It helps everyone on the team learn to be flexible, not just one person bending all the time.
  3. It encourages transparent communication between team members, therefore, building respectful relationships.

NOSometimes saying “No” can be very difficult for a variety of reasons. We may feel under pressure to protect our reputation and relationships and don’t want to sacrifice these over doing a potentially simple task.However, sometimes you need to say “No” to get on with more important tasks.

Here are a number of ways you can say No:

  • Direct No
    Use this when you can afford to be direct without risking your reputation.
  • Indirect No
    You may use this type to soften your response. You are responding with a negative but deliver it positively.
  • Preemptive No
    In this case, you have the ability to anticipate the request and avoid the issues associated with saying “No” altogether by giving information about your state upfront. If others already see that you are busy or will be unavailable, they are less likely to bother you. Of course, this is relative.

If you always pretend to be busy, either they will be too busy to meet your needs in the future or you won’t be trusted when you say you are busy. Use this carefully. Following the guidelines in my article about keeping a calendar makes it easier to prepare the preemptive No.

The following exercises focus on saying direct and indirect “No”. There are three steps to both types of “No”: offer Reasons, give Sympathy, and provide Alternatives.



You will find that saying NO is a lot easier if you have specific goals in mind and know what your mission statement is. Since you are willing to do everything to get to that state, saying NO to a few people along the way is not a big deal at all.

Saying Direct “No”

Consider the following request: You are in the middle of doing some critical work on a project. A colleague approaches you and asks, “Can you do me a favor? I need a hand to finish this report delivery for the investor today.”


Exercise: Saying direct “No”

Consider the following request: You have been working overtime this week to finish an overdue project. You are now looking forward to taking a few days off. Your boss approaches you, “You are good with Excel, aren’t you? David’s wife is due to deliver and it seems like he won’t be able to work on this next week. So I thought this is a great opportunity to get you involved in this project as I know you always wanted to do it. Can I count on your help next week?”

Practice giving the direct  “No”. What might you say?


Saying indirect “No”

Consider the following request: You are in the middle of doing some critical work on a project. A colleague approaches you and asks, “Can you do me a favor. I need help finishing this report for delivery to the investor today.”


In Conclusion

Sure, no one wants to be known as the person who always says no when asked to provide an assist. Doing so might make people think we are not a team player. Instead, build a reputation for being transparent about your schedule and what you have going on during your work day.

Share your calendar. Know your personal mission. Practice delivering the Direct and Indirect “No”.  This is the sign of a truly flexible employee.

(This blog series begins with 5 Mental Techniques to Master Time Management. And for more on my personal heroes, productivity tips, and articles on leadership visit 15 Minutes Per Day.)

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s