Learn to say “No”​ by Sanjay Dandekar, @santhedan

I have found that many people find it difficult to say “No”. They end up saying “Yes” when their heart / mind / body is shouting “Noooooo…..!”. This could happen due to many reasons:

  • Fear: If I say no, my performance review will be affected.
  • Gratitude: Repaying the debt (however small it may be) – The person asking helped me last time so the least I can do is say “Yes”!
  • Authority: How can I say no to my boss’s boss?
  • Affection: How can I say no to my best buddy?
  • Heard mentality: Everyone is saying “Yes”. Why be the odd one out?

Some of the after effects of always saying “Yes” are as follows:

  • You will always be overworked and will have no time for anything other than work.
  • You will have some spectacular failures against your name as you will eventually fail at something important while juggling multiple things.
  • You may get exploited – More work for less pay, Your colleagues will have fun while you toil away at your desk.
  • With each “Yes” which should be “No”, you will scale the mountain of unrealistic expectations only to fall at some point in future.
  • Your physical and mental health may get affected.
  • Your social and professional relationships may become strained or snap altogether.
  • You will make your team members’s life miserable as eventually they also have to support your “yes” one way or another.

“When you say yes to something you don’t want to do, here is the result: you hate what you are doing, you resent the person who asked you, and you hurt yourself.” – James Altucher, The Power of No 

One approach to learn to say no is to ask for some time and say “I will think about it” instead of saying yes or no on the spot. Use the time wisely to evaluate what you want to say (“Yes” or “No”) and the consequence of the same. Think and try to answer the following:

  • Does it align with your goals and objectives?
  • Does it interest you or not?
  • Do you have the requisite skills / expertise? If no then do you want to acquire the requisite skills / expertise?
  • Given your other responsibilities that you have already said “yes” to, do you have enough time?
  • Are there any other tasks that are currently on your plate that you can offer as a “trade-off” in case you do not have time?
  • Is there a well defined success / failure criteria and expected timelines for completion? Will you be able to meet / exceed the expectations?
  • Will you be dependent on someone / something to complete what is asked of you? Are the dependencies agreed and committed?
  • If you are saying “Yes” on behalf of the team, are all members (or sizable majority) in agreement? The onus is on you to ensure that you do have “false-consensus”.

Answering the above will give you clear enough a picture about why you want to say “No”. While saying “No”, do the following:

  • Explain your “genuine” reasons for saying no – a quantitative approach is preferred
  • Be polite but firm in your response
  • Don’t be apologetic
  • Don’t feel guilty

Remember you will be successful only if you “want” to do what is asked of you. If you force yourself to be “what you are not” then it will only produce mediocre outcomes at best. Learn to stop saying “Yes” out of fear or obligation or guilt. It is far better to say “No” than to say “Yes” and not deliver on your commitments.

It is only by saying “No” that you can concentrate on the things that are really important – Steve Jobs 

So go ahead and say “No” with confidence and without remorse – There are many differentways to say it!

Learn to accept “No”

When you ask someone to do something, be ready to hear a “No” as that is one of the possible outcome of this exercise! Just because you have the position of authority / own a favor does not mean that the other person is obliged to say “Yes”. Give time to the person to make a decision and listen to their reasoning with empathy when they say “No”. Do not take the negative response as a negative feedback or rejection of your self. The person has said “No” for the task and not to you as a person. These two are completely different things. If you want to convert the “No” to “Yes”, try the following:

  • If the reason for “No” is time constraint, offer to reduce the existing workload i.e. re-prioritize the existing tasks.
  • If skill / knowledge is the constraint, offer coaching, training opportunity and also provide time for ramp-up before the task can start.
  • If the objective / outcome of the task is hazy, then involve the right people to bring about clarity.
  • If there is dependencies then ensure that those are committed and fulfilled at the right time by the right people.

If the person has no interest because the task is not aligned with their goals / objectives or is diagonally opposite of their interest, it is recommended that you accept the “No”. You will never get the required outcome in such situations – It might be counterproductive to push for “Yes” using your authority. If you are a “good” leader who is close to your team, you will never be in such a situation as you will know the aspirations of your team members! The best approach in such situation is to find someone else who will say “Yes”. Remember, people who say “No”:

  • Have different priority than you
  • Can still be multi-tasking or may not like multi-tasking
  • May want to give their 100% to something else that is also important
  • Are still competent and skillful (Isn’t that why you asked them to do the task?)
  • Are team player and are deeply invested in achieving team’s goals (Would a badly done task help achieve team’s goal?)

Do not demonize them just because they said “No” when you wanted them to say “Yes”!

Disclaimer :- This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individuals. 


Sanjay Dandekar A well rounded software architect with almost 20+ years of rich and very diverse technology and domain experience in various verticals including CRM, Retail Banking, Financial Services and Healthcare. Extensive hands-on development, design and architecture experience in various technologies. LinkedIn@santhedanWebsite

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