How easy is it for you to say NO?

You would be surprised by how many people battle to say NO in their business and in their personal lives.

  1. Come for a drink after work.
  2. Please give me a lift to the shops.
  3. I need the delivery by 6am tomorrow.
  4. I am assigning you to run the project.
  5. We are returning the product we bought.
  6. I know we haven’t paid but send me the next order in the meantime.

Which one do you find the hardest? Which one is the easiest? Why do you think that some are easier than others? The answers won’t be the same for different people.

When we are not able to say NO to people it is because we feel that we do not get a say, or we do not know how to say No and it may cause a fight, or because we do not know that we should or could be saying No.


Let’s look at some of these scenarios.


You are invited out and you end up going. You may be telling yourself that we all need a social life and you really want to go. However, what else should you be doing? For a lot of people they do not see time as a resource. We all get the exact same number of hours in a day and what we do with those hours is up to us. We need to face the consequences though. Maybe you have agreed to go for one drink but you should be studying or spending time with the kids, catching up with work project or working on a DIY project. I do not know about you but I have never ever been anywhere for only one drink.

It helps to sit at the beginning of each month or week and have a list of what needs doing. Then allocate the hours to each. Be clear on which hour gets what. Do not forget that you need to sleep, eat, exercise and yes spend time socially. You also need time to cater for your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs. As an e.g. you are studying and so need to schedule class time, time for research and projects as well as your syndicate.

Next to each thing on the list write out your WHY for doing it. Why are you studying? Why are you exercising? Your WHY for each thing needs to be bigger than the temptation of doing something that is not on the list.  When you agree to study do ask yourself where the hours to do so will be coming from. They must come from another part of your life. When you schedule everything you will find that the month doesn’t disappear on you.


I would love to join you for a drink but my studying isn’t going to do itself and I really want to finish my course. Thank you for asking but I have to say NO.


I am assigning you to run this project.

You would be surprised to know how many people blindly accept the responsibility. I think probably because they feel they cannot say NO. Questions you have to ask yourself is are you the right person for this project as regards skills, experience, capacity, potential, people and timeline. It is exciting to take on a project where you must go and acquire the skills first but that can also be extremely stressful especially if you do not know you need those skills or you do not ask to get those skills. Often people have three other projects ahead of this one but they do not communicate that to their managers. The manager then is furious when they are kept waiting. You really need to ask about scheduling and when the project is needed by. Be free to discuss openly that there are other projects in the waiting line.


Given the timeline of this project together with my existing projects, I need to alert you to the fact that it will not work for me to be project lead.


We haven’t paid but send us the next order in the meantime.

This is a hard one because you really want the sales. Is a sale really a sale if the customer hasn’t paid? This will depend on how big a company you are as to how much credit you allow but that has to be weighed up against the risk. You are funding the customer. What happens if they do not pay which happens way more than you imagine? Also, so many companies go out of business. When I think back to working in healthcare, we would also battle with saying no to a hospital because we knew that patients were relying on the product or service being delivered. How fair is it to still be expected to deliver when the hospital owes you millions? Do not be fooled by us talking millions as R3000 can feel like millions to little companies.

In this situation it helps to be very clear on your standards. At which point do you not supply? How can you solve the problem before you refuse delivery and put the customer on credit hold? It helps to have a relationship with the customer’s finance people and to not allow little problems to become big problems. When you collect money as it is owed as opposed to running into month’s of being overdue, it does make it easier in the long run.


Please be aware that we will not be supplying any future product until your account is settled.


And when they request the urgent delivery, you can say as shared with you on day 1 and day 2….. we will not be supplying until your account is paid in full.


Life is short, Eat the ice cream

Of course, life is short and there will be times when you do opt to forego the schedule, policy and plans to say yes to the ice cream. Do ensure that it is not every time. The clearer you are about your WHY and you have written down policies and standards, the easier it will be to say NO.

Saying NO does not have to be abrupt or unkind, however it does need to be firm and communicated.

submitted by Colleen Qvist (Master Coach)
[email protected]

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author.