I turned down paid work this week.  I agonised over the decision for days.  Can I afford to turn it down?  Can I afford NOT to turn it down?  Will they still like me if I say NO?  Will I lose this potential client forever by saying NO?  I felt so lousy at the thought I might be disappointing someone, that I almost lost my nerve entirely.

Saying NO doesn’t come naturally to me in my professional life.  It never has.  In my personal life however, I’m an expert.  “No!  We keep our hands away from hot ovens”.  “Ummm … no, please stop putting Lego up your nose”, “No sweetie, I can’t get your paints out right now – can’t you see I’m cleaning up your brother’s vomit?”.  I’m great at saying it at home, so why doesn’t it come naturally in the workplace?!


Before becoming my own boss, I was gainfully employed by a number of fantastic employers around the globe for over 20 years (yes, I’m THAT old!).  Early in my career I wasn’t confident enough to say NO to anyone I worked for.  I was so bad at it that in my very early 20s I ended up with a promotion I didn’t want, in a department I didn’t want to work in, in a country I wasn’t all that sure I still wanted to be living in, all because I didn’t have the confidence to say NO.

In later years I had the confidence to say NO, but perhaps I was just doing it wrong.  Or maybe the culture of the organisations I worked for meant they didn’t want to hear NO.  Or could it simply be that working in supporting roles sometimes means you are primarily employed to give support, not opinions?  Whatever the reason, my very rare NOs were often politely ignored.

It’s safe to say I am a people pleaser.  And this is no doubt the reason I have never been good at saying NO.  This week that all changed.  I had no choice but to put my big girl pants on, take a deep breath and say it ... well actually, I didn’t have to say it out loud, it was instead carried out via email.  Oh boy, should I have phoned instead?!  Will My Girl Friday now and forever always be known as the support business that doesn’t provide support to anyone, because they always say “NO”?!  Arrrghhhh!!  It was time to start researching this tricky ‘NO’ situation.

It turns out that I’m not the only one that has trouble saying NO.  In fact, it’s SUPER common and a very natural part of human nature.  Thankfully there are some true and tested tricks that can help …


How to say NO successfully:


1.  Have Clear Goals

Making the decision to say NO is made easier if you know immediately that a project does not fit in with your business’s goals and vision.


2.  Respond Promptly

Don’t waste anyone’s time.  It comes across as disrespectful.  If done in a timely manner saying NO will be more easily accepted.


3.  Explain Why

Never say NO without a clear and transparent explanation.  Done right and it won’t be taken personally.


4.  Is there an Alternative?

Can you offer help in another way?  Can you take on a smaller part of the larger project?  Is there someone else you can recommend that can help instead?


5.  Practice, Practice, Practice!

Practice saying NO.  The more you say it out loud, the easier it will be.


Saying NO is a skill.  A vital skill that everyone should learn.  We all have our limitations and can only do so much.  Saying YES to more than you can give your best effort to will only result in stress. Saying NO means you’ll actually accomplish more.

So … this week I said NO and turned down work.  Shock-horror!  I lived to tell the tale.  The world did not implode.  My business is still functioning.   And do you know what?  Instead of fretting and over-thinking it for the next week, I’ve decided to celebrate it. 

This is a milestone for my young business, a day for celebration!  Having to turn down work means I am almost working at capacity.  What an amazing week it’s been.  Not only have I’ve learnt the art of saying NO, but I have also received the ultimate validation that I am doing something right in business … and it feels  awesome!