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Saying "No" never felt so good!


How to deliver a Guilt-free “No” at work.

Do you ever feel pressured into taking on more work knowing you don’t have capacity? When was the last time you resentfully agreed to help someone with something knowing you didn’t have the bandwidth? It seems so simple; they have a problem, you have the solution. How selfish of you not to help. Plus, if you don’t help they might tell the entire office that you’re not a team player and add zero value. It’s so frustrating!  And by the way, you’re not alone. According to Cornell University (ILR School), people tend to say yes three times more as often as they thought they would. Like any other muscle, saying “no” takes conscious effort and practice.

Last week at a yearly planning offsite, I asked the room, “what’s top of mind?”. Twelve out of twelve leaders shared they were concerned with the number of programs requested for the quarter. The demands seemed to overwhelm the capacity of the teams. They understood that prioritizing would shed clarity on the top five initiatives they needed to focus on but they also knew at some point they’d have to say “no” to their stakeholders and customers. It was obvious saying “no” didn’t come without strain. There are good reasons to why you have to say no at times; it typically has to do with tangible business variables such as budget, resources, capacity or it’s not a business priority. I took a poll in the room and asked, “What’s stopping you from saying ‘no’?” The number one answer was FEAR, followed by DISAPPOINTMENT and GUILT. They all had valid business reasons as to why they should say no but fear of being judged outweighed the burden of taking on more work.

Flipping “No” on its head to “Yes”

As a child, you were taught to agree and say “yes” to parents and Teachers. 


The "yes" is the kid in us.

Saying “no” was bad and saying “yes” was good.  To this day, saying “yes” still feels good and saying “no” still feels bad. What if you could flip the perspective of saying “no”. What if saying “no” to something meant you are saying “yes” to something else that’s more important? For example, saying “yes” to a pipeline generation workshop over a partnership playbook. Or saying “yes” to leadership development over product demoing skills. Or saying “yes” to lunch because you deserve to eat and take a break. Suddenly, saying “no” doesn’t feel so bad. You might be thinking “Great, but I still have to say no to the other person. That’s where I get stuck.”

For this week’s Life xSpearmint you are going to learn how to deliver a GUILT-FREE NO in five easy steps.


Life xSpearmint

1. Assess your request. Do you have capacity or resources? Is it a priority?

2. This is the most important step. What are you saying “yes” to? What is the priority

Examples: Revenue generating projects. The number one business goal. Work-Life Integration.

3. Why are you saying “no”? (Tangible business reasons)

Examples: No bandwidth. No budget. Not a top priority.

4. Offer a goodwill gesture.

Examples: Consult on the project. Connect them to another resource. Consider it for a later time.

5. Craft an honest and direct response. Be sure to include the following three data points. This type of response provides a well-rounded perspective on the competing business priorities, business capacity and that you’re willing to help in some way.

a) What are you saying “yes” to (answers 2)?

b) Why you are saying “no” (answers 3)?

c) A goodwill gesture (answer 4).

Example: “The team can’t take on the new sales mentorship program this quarter. The team is at capacity (3) learning three new solution plays (2) to increase suffering pipeline. What I CAN DO is offer feedback on your plan later this week. Let’s reconsider delivering in the last half of the year (4).”


Remember, you’re not saying “no” to the person. You are saying “no” to the request and saying “yes” to what’s more important. Keep an even keel tone, do not show hesitation and do not apologize. You didn’t do anything wrong. Lastly, practice, practice, practice.


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