Just Say No!

Learn to say "no", so you can get to "yes!"

Don’t worry, this isn’t Nancy Regan’s anti drug campaign from the 80’s, although that message is still good advice today.  Instead, I’ve provided a current insight on the power of saying “no”.  If you’re a people pleaser, or think you want to be one, this lesson will challenge you!

I was recently acknowledged by a respected colleague for my ability to say “no.”  Many self employed business owners want to do whatever we can to accommodate others when they ask for a favor, or want us to join a committee, lead a board, give a presentation, etc.  However, saying yes to those things when you don’t have the time or energy to adequately devote to them can do more harm than good.

I’d rather politely decline so that I don’t over-extend myself, than say yes and risk tarnishing my good brand by doing a so-so or poor job.

My objective is to honor all my existing commitments, while leaving enough margin for unexpected interruptions or delays and sufficient down time.

Key Questions:

To make sure you aren’t taking on too much and diluting your effectiveness, ask yourself these questions:

1. Does this opportunity fit with my skills, target market, and/or core values? 

2.   Do I have sufficient time, energy, and resources available to meet the requirements of the request, without sacrificing quality? 

3.   Is there someone else available who could do a better job of honoring this request than me? 

4.   Do I really want to do this? Do I feel called to do this?

If I can’t answer “yes” to all four questions, then I say “no” to the opportunity.  There are numerous opportunities to distract me, drain me, motivate me, amuse me, and annoy me.  Some of the opportunities are dressed up as really good things, but the book Good to Great by Jim Collins reminds us not to let the good distract us from becoming Great.   Whether we’re considering taking time to do a favor for someone, or embark on a business opportunity, pursue a spiritual endeavor, or agree to a volunteer commitment, we really should make sure that all 4 points above can be answered yes.  If not, we should say no.


You may be wondering, “what harm could it do if I said yes to these good opportunities?”    The following consequences come to mind, and I’m sure we could come up with many more if we tried:

  • Let’s say you agree to speak for a civic group because a friend asked, but it requires you to be there at 7am when you normally drive your child to school at 7:30am.  Do you assign someone else to drive your child, or do you cancel the speaking opportunity the day before because you forgot about driving your child to school?  If you cancel last minute, it leaves the group hanging and you get classified as someone they can’t count on.  If you tell your spouse at 6:45am that he/she needs to drive little Johnny to school, you may create problems at home.
  • You agree to sit on a board for a worthy cause, simply because they asked.  You don’t really have the time to attend all the meetings, but you show up on occasion if other things don’t pop up in your schedule.  Are you helping the cause?  Not really.  Are you hurting your reputation?  Most definitely.
  • Your friends talk you into going to the bar after work, when you have a 7am presentation the next morning.  You can probably see where this one is going….

A New Perspective on “No

None of these “opportunities” seemed like a bad thing, but it’s really all about choices and priorities.  Saying “no” to the non-priorities, frees us up to say “yes” to the things we are meant to pursue. Derek Siver’s book, “Anything you want” really speaks to this point.  He has an awesome filter, which I’ve started to adopt myself.  When presented with a choice, such as an event to attend, an item to purchase, or time to invest, he asks himself, “do I really want to do this?”  If his answer isn’t an enthusiastic  “Hell Yeah!,”  he declines the opportunity.

Those of us who are self employed have to be very cautious and prudent with our time.  It is a precious resource, along our financial resources, and our skills/talents.  It’s easy to say “yes” because we want everyone to like us and think of us often, but he who says “yes” to everyone pleases no one.

Think about these 4 questions and Derek Siver’s “filter” next time you are presented with an opportunity.  If it doesn’t fit within your priorities, just say no!

Discussion Points:

  • Share an example of a time you overcommitted yourself.  How did it turn out?
  • Share an example of a time you declined an opportunity because your plate was already full.  How did it turn out?
  • We train others how to treat us, by how we respond to their requests.  If you answer every email or phone call within minutes of receipt, no matter what time of day or night they arrive, you let others know you are available at all times.  While this is great if you have no other distractions, obligations, or a need for a life, it can’t be sustained for long.  People want to know they can rely on you, so you need to be consistent in your availability.  If you answer immediately in one instance and days later in another, people never really know if or when they can count on you.  Has this situation occurred in your life?  If so, how did you handle it? 


Lori T. Williams is a 22 year attorney based in Birmingham, MI. She owns a legal referral and legal consulting business called Your Legal Resource, PLLC. She assists individuals and small businesses in need of legal advice or representation by connecting them with the right legal specialist for their situation. She also provides consulting services for attorneys and other professional service providers on how to generate more business through effective branding, marketing, networking, and by creating strategic partnerships. For more information, visit www.bestlegalresource.com.

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John Rohrbeck February 03, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Great advice, Lori. Saying 'no' is hard for me so I'll give your suggestions a try!
Lori T. Williams February 14, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Thanks for reading and commenting John. Good luck in your efforts. Let me know how it goes.


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