How to Say No


What defines leaders is not so much their ability to say “yes”, but their ability to say “no.” Tim Elmore shares three ways to gracefully say no.

I have concluded that what defines a leader today is not so much their ability to say “yes”, but their ability to say “no.” Learning how to say no can be life-changing. Saying no means possessing the skill to sniff out what fits into your wheelhouse and what would be a distraction. Let’s face it. America is the land of opportunity and today, we've created more opportunities that ever. Most leaders can’t handle it.

The most accurate words to describe our lives today are:

  • Overwhelmed
  • Options
  • Obese
  • Open-minded
  • Over-committed
  • Opportunities

We have a hard time saying no to anyone or anything. We don’t want to miss our chance to catch that big break or that next promotion. We don’t want to be narrow.

On the other hand, most of us would dearly like to reduce and simplify. We are weary of all the tasks, clutter and noise around us. If only we could learn how to say no to the people who approach us with another “opportunity.”

Let me offer some simple reminders of how you can do this.

How to Say No Gracefully…

When we know who we are, what our gifts are, and what our calling is, it’s easier to determine the “yes’s” and “no’s” of life. As a leader, when a task would not further your team’s goal, you are a steward of that team’s time, resources and talents and you are embezzling from the team if you say yes. You need to say no, even if it is a friend. The way you say no, however, is just as important as deciding to say it.

1. Say no to the idea not to the person
Make sure the person understands that you are not rejecting them. You’re simply saying no to what they want you to do. Give their idea affirmation, but explain that it doesn't fit with your calendar or current responsibilities.

2. Respond in terms of the interests of the person asking.
Make sure the person knows that you’re not choosing the easy response, but that you want to genuinely help them. Communicate that your time constraints would prevent you from doing the kind of work they deserve.

3. Defer graciously. Come up with an alternative for them.
Be a problem-solver and help them complete their task. Give them confidence that they can do it, or suggest someone to them who would be better than you to do it, in terms of available or gifts. This adds value as it meets their need.

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