5 ways to say no.

For the last two months I’ve worked on a project called “30 Days of Hustle.” I send an email out each morning with a challenge and created a private Facebook group. A few days ago, I shared an idea that I thought I would add here.

It’s about the most powerful word you need when you chase a dream.

I’m talking about the word “no” of course.

This is a hard one for me, because it’s fun to say yes. That word makes people happy. Yes I will do that. Yes I will be there. Yes I will work on it. But sometimes, we don’t understand that when we say yes, we are saying no to the things that really matter.

Here are 5 ways to say no to things that might distract you:

1. Prepare for yes situations.
Right now, about 10 people a week ask me to say yes to going to coffee with them. But if I say yes to everyone, that’s a lot of time I won’t be spending doing what I feel called to do, write. So in preparation for that, I’ve written a standard email response. Do some people wish I would say yes? Sure, but no is the right decision in a lot of these cases.

2. Check your motivations.
If we’re honest, sometimes we say yes for the wrong reasons. For instance, if I go speak to a bunch of organizations about topics that aren’t in my core strength, the reason I’m doing it is for money. Is it OK to do that sometimes? I guess, but each day I spend on the road away from my real goals, I get further away from being who I am trying to be. Be honest about your motivations. Why do you keep saying yes to the wrong things?

3. Get a no partner.
Don’t try to say no alone. Get someone who can help you do that. We all have a friend who is a master of no. They don’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings or disappointing someone if no is what they should say to a request. Find a master of no and tell them that you, like me, are a wimp when it comes to the word no.

4. Accept the consequences.
If someone gets mad that you said no to them, that’s not a sign you shouldn’t have said that. It’s actually a huge validation that no was the best thing to say. When someone is mad I won’t go to a coffee or endorse a book I don’t have the time to give attention to, their anger is not failure on my part. That’s on them. Don’t let the disappointment of someone else change your no into a yes. Anger is an awful reason to change your word. (And the same goes with me. There were two friends who wouldn’t endorse my last book. Would I have preferred them to say yes instead of no? of course, but that doesn’t mean I should be angry. I have to respect their no.)

5. Carry a yes list.
The reason you have a hard time saying no is that often, you lose sight of what you’ve already said yes to. Keep a “yes list,” a simple list of commitments you’ve already made. Put it on a note in pocket or make it the wallpaper of your phone. When you face a situation that requires you to say no, review it.

The word yes is very expensive. You only have a few opportunities to spend it every day. Don’t waste it on situations that deserve to hear the word no.

Is it ever hard for you to say no?

  • Jeff
    Posted at 07:27h, 10 February Reply

    Hi Jon, l agree with you. Like you I found out the hard way. To many yeses = loss of sleep and loss of focus.

  • Trevoron
    Posted at 07:57h, 10 February Reply

    Sometimes I guess it can be related to an issue of control. The more things we say “Yes!” , the more control we feel we have over everything. And the more control we feel we may have over people as well. I had coffee with this person, so now they OWE me. I did this project for that person, so now they OWE me. And inevitably, people won’t pay what you think they owe. This leads to frustration and burnout.

    Of course, I’m not speaking from experience or anything…

  • Nick
    Posted at 08:08h, 10 February Reply

    I have a hard time saying no, but I heard something from a wise man that helped a ton. Let’s call him M. Hyatt. No, that’s too obvious. Let’s call him Michael H.

    He said on a recent podcast that he had a hard time saying no to requests for his time but recognizes that he can help more people by blogging or podcasting more than spending one on one time. So it is a better and more helpful use of his time to say no. Very good point he made.

  • Shawn L
    Posted at 08:34h, 10 February Reply

    Great points! My favorite is number 4. I have such a hard time saying no. I’m way too much of a people pleaser. My wife is in the Air Force and she is good at saying no and staying committed to doing the things that matter most. She is my no partner 🙂 She’s awesome!

  • Joey E
    Posted at 09:05h, 10 February Reply

    This is something I have been learning along the way. But going with #3, it may help if you find a partner (or a supervisor) whom you can “blame” for saying no. That may be a cop-out for some, but others have given me permission to blame them.

    But it comes back to the same mindset: “I can’t help you now, because my leadership wants me to focus on . . . .”

    • Jodi
      Posted at 14:23h, 10 February Reply

      The same can be said for your spouse (“My husband has asked me to only commit to x, y, z right now”) and I definitely want to be the cop-out for my children if they’re ever in a situation where they don’t want to do something but are trying to save face (“My mom would kill me if she found out I did… so I don’t want to risk it.”)

  • Cheryl Barker
    Posted at 09:20h, 10 February Reply

    Great way to see saying “no” in a more positive light, Jon. This fits right in with my theme word for this year – guard. I have to guard against saying yes when I should really say no. I’m pretty good at saying no but still usually feel kind of guilty when I do. Keeping your points in mind will help – thanks!

  • Justin Deiter@TruthandWord
    Posted at 09:29h, 10 February Reply

    A lot of times I find it hard to say no. The hardest part is saying no when you really don’t have anything else going but you would rather not do it.

  • Tyler
    Posted at 09:33h, 10 February Reply

    Being a ‘people-pleaser’, saying “No” is very difficult. Definitely will use your advice concerning a “Yes” list.

  • Matt McWilliams
    Posted at 10:24h, 10 February Reply


  • Jason
    Posted at 10:32h, 10 February Reply

    That’s cool man. Want to grab coffee sometime?

  • Leslie
    Posted at 10:35h, 10 February Reply

    I have a friend who said recently that, for him, “2014 is the year of ‘No.'” He’s a father of four who grasped the fleeting nature of this season and is saying yes to his family. I gave him a heartfelt slow-clap.

  • Randy
    Posted at 10:35h, 10 February Reply

    Man great stuff. I think this can be applied to so many aspects of life. “Why I will wait”, or “Why I’ll stick it out” etc…… saying no to the harmful, keeping a list of why I’m saying “No”.

  • Clara
    Posted at 10:35h, 10 February Reply

    I’ve a history of falling victim to emotional manipulation, and it really doesn’t take much effort on the part of the manipulator. Half the time if I walk down the street and a homeless person asks for something I generally don’t have any money with me but I still feel like I can’t walk away without doing something, even if it’s just to have a chat for a minute or two. In other words, I’m easily guilt-tripped. BUT, I’m learning to say no. It’s not easy when every sob-story tears at your heart, but anti-depressants and psycho-therapy have done wonders! And, of course, this list will help too. Thank you! 🙂

  • david
    Posted at 10:40h, 10 February Reply

    Or you could Jesus Juke them with. “Let me pray about it.” Lol

  • Kimanzi
    Posted at 10:45h, 10 February Reply

    This is such a huge lesson in chasing and living your dream. There are so many good things to say yes to that will take away time from hustle things you should be doing to push your dream forward.

  • David Mike
    Posted at 10:49h, 10 February Reply

    I agree with all of this! However, it is social media that I need to say no to….

  • John Waldo (@johnwaldo)
    Posted at 10:49h, 10 February Reply

    It’s interesting that Harvard Business Review just posted a link about a company that is saying “NO” to all but ONE product: http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/02/basecamps-strategy-offers-a-useful-reminder-less-is-more/

  • Yinka
    Posted at 10:50h, 10 February Reply

    Thank you for this, very needed! Was just having a conversation with my friend yesterday about the same thing. Totally agree of course, that working on the wrong stuff, takes away time from the right stuff that we should be working on.

    I definitely like the idea of a ‘Yes List’, I had a mental one, but I’ve just written one down now, for easy reference 🙂

  • Mark
    Posted at 11:21h, 10 February Reply

    coffee’s out. Wanna get lunch? 🙂 You can live without coffee breaks, but gifts and talents only go so far against low blood sugar. And Austin isn’t too far away. We even have the same hair-style, dreaming capacities, and grammar-nazi wives. But according to mine, you are way funnier than I am. I keep telling her that honesty isn’t always the best policy. No avail.

  • Micah
    Posted at 12:07h, 10 February Reply

    I have a hard time with “no,” but coming up on my 4th child, I am starting to get better at it for very practical purposes. However, I have found an effective and productive “end-around” I like to run when it comes to requests for me to do something in the congregation (where I serve as a deacon and on-the-side college minister).

    People have lots of great ideas for things to do with the college members in the congregation – a large group in a Christian college town. I want to encourage these ideas. However, when someone comes to me with an idea, my first response (assuming it is reasonable and/or is not already being done), is “Hey, that sounds great. Why don’t YOU take charge of coordinating it. Once YOU have a little more fleshed out plan of how to implement this idea, let’s set up a time to meet and see what YOU need to do to get it going.” In other words, if you really like this idea, then you will put the work into making it happen. And if you are willing to do that, then I am willing to help.

    I think this serves two purposes.

    1. I am not overwhelmed with projects I’ve committed myself to. Very few of the people bringing the idea to me feel strongly enough about it to do any sort of basic research and planning that would lead to my involvement.

    2. Instead of being the guy who does everything, it encourages others to engage and get involved (because some people do have good ideas and are willing to spend some time developing it, and that is great). I promise to be a positive support to them without agreeing to do all the work for them.

    3. A third option I have been using more is saying that I will see if I can find a college student to head it up (if appropriate). If we want kids to grow into active members in the congregation, then at some point we have to start treating children like people who have something to contribute to the Church (which starts much younger than college in my opinion, but it better start by then if you still even have them as college students).

    Sometimes “yes” is not even the best answer. Sometimes we (specifically thinking of church leadership, but it might apply elsewhere) think it is our responsibility to try and do it all ourselves, and in practice this leads us to be way too stressed out trying to keep a ton of projects barely afloat. Instead, we need to see our job as identifying and engaging other member’s talents in the work of the Church so we can have people dedicated to a high-functioning project in an area they care about. I am trying to view myself more as a facilitator to match talents and passions to projects rather than be the guy in charge of everything. By doing so, we are all building each other up together, as is God’s self-described plan for the Body.

    Final thought: you can have too many projects. Christianity isn’t just about doing stuff Christians like to do. Jesus said “no” at times in order to spend time building his personal relationship with God, and he rarely engaged in projects, focusing more on building individual relationships. Deepening your relationship with God and with other individual Christians must take priority over any project. A stronger relationship with God and others will lead to a greater desire to work with others for God. It will also make the work in which you do engage more impactful as it develops out of a sincere and growing love for God and His plan. Prioritizing God time over doing God stuff is a difficult lesson I am trying to learn.

  • James Hare
    Posted at 13:26h, 10 February Reply

    Answer to your question: Yes.

  • Kristin
    Posted at 14:57h, 10 February Reply

    We had a big discussion about this in the group the day before you posted this because I was saying no but people were not accepting my no. Got lots of great feedback. After lots of persistence and expanding the circle of the no (emailing the president of the group that was asking me to do things), my no was finally accepted. So pleased. Amazing folks in the hustle group. Thank you for putting this project together for us.

  • Scott
    Posted at 21:27h, 10 February Reply

    For me personally, it’s not hard to say no. I think my time is valuable and I have to prioritize it. Maybe it’s because I’ve been my own boss for a while that I know it’s my job to be picky with my time. Saying no, makes it easier to know what to say yes to.

  • robyn collins
    Posted at 21:30h, 10 February Reply

    that was incredibly helpful… as i received a voicemail requesting that i ghost write someone’s blog. i’m on a songwriting trajectory, i’m consumed, obsessed, madly in love with it, so pretty much everything that doesn’t contribute to that has to be a no… good word, jon

  • Heather
    Posted at 08:15h, 11 February Reply

    I’m struggling right now with trying to decide if I should say no to and resign from some activities. My job has become very busy and intense and I’m now struggling to do my non-paying activities well.

    I love all that I’m involved in but I don’t want to short-change anyone including, of course, the company that actually pays me!

    It’s a hard decision to make; to say no to things I love doing!

  • Rick
    Posted at 08:58h, 11 February Reply

    Hey Jon
    A few weeks I blogged about the exact opposite.
    I fully agree that no is a powerful word when it comes to focusing on what you were called to do.
    Yet we lead in a generation of young adults who seem paralyzed to say yes to opportunities presented before them because it doesn’t feel perfect.
    Do you feel that there are seasons of yes and seasons of no.
    Love to hear feedback

  • Susan Juergensen
    Posted at 12:17h, 11 February Reply

    Good to see that someone more wise than I (no, I didn’t say you’re a Wise Guy:), with much more experience working with a “public” not only struggles with when to say no, but has created a formula for successful “no-ing”. You’ve provided me with a “Successful No”. Only because I’ve decided ahead of time exactly where/when/what to say “Yes!” to. Thanks for the tips!

  • Jason Sandefer
    Posted at 14:09h, 11 February Reply

    Well, after Jon’s post back in December, “3 easy ways to get influential people to help you” I invited Jon out for a cup of coffee. After all, he’s been a huge influence for me in my professional career.

    He responded.

    I thought it was a positive response.

    That is, until I read THIS post. Now I’m not sure how to read his response. Was this his ‘standard response’ to really tell me no? I’m so confused. Guess I’ll find out when I get to Nashville in a few months…

  • Julie
    Posted at 22:09h, 11 February Reply

    This is good. Getting better at saying no…but definitely need a no friend!

  • Robin
    Posted at 05:14h, 12 February Reply

    I have a best friend who, if I say no, responds in such an off-hand way that I feel so guilty!! I’m not so sure of the “best friend” status anymore…surely the response should be nicer and more understanding than that? If my best friend knows me as much as they say then surely they would know I have a good reason for saying no. Any comments welcome.
    By the way I’m learning, albeit slowly, to shrug off the off-handedness as their problem…..it’s hard though.

  • Akunna
    Posted at 08:17h, 12 February Reply

    Great article Jon, thanks for sharing! You’re right on the money. Saying no to things so that I can say yes to what matters is something I’m working on. The greater challenge is getting out of long term commitments that no longer align with where you’re going. Honour is big to me and I often get stuck on that. Any tips for dealing with that? Thanks!

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