The Art of Saying No

By Allissa Haines and Michael Reynolds
[Blueprint for Success]

It’s so easy to say yes to new opportunities. It feels good to be invited and to be asked to help. It feels good to know you are wanted and needed. And it feels good to be helpful!
At the same time, it feels heavy and defeating to be doing work (paid or volunteer) you don’t really want to be doing. Doing work that emotionally and financially drains you is a path to discontent and burnout.
It can be really hard to refuse an opportunity or step away from a regular gig, but it’s possible to do so gracefully—and it will get easier with practice and preparation. Saying no is an art, and doing it well will gain you respect and build a helpful sense of confidence.
If you’ve struggled with saying no to volunteer work or paying jobs you just don’t love—or don’t pay well—take heart! We’ve got some tips to help you build your “No, thank you” muscle.

Stop Saying Yes

At least, stop saying yes immediately. Resist the urge to get excited, even if it is an exciting opportunity. This takes some practice because, well, new opportunities are exciting, right?
Here are some scripts to help you stall:
• “Oh! That sounds exciting! I’ll need to look at my schedule and see if that’s something I can fit in.”
• “What a great opportunity! I’ll need to do some thinking to see if I’m the best person
for this.”
Even if an idea excites you, give yourself the chance to pause and consider whether you can fit it into your life. Decide whether the benefits (emotionally and/or financially) outweigh what you have to give up in order to do the gig or task.
Every opportunity you accept comes at a cost. That cost could be time with your kids or time for you. The cost may be income you need to meet your financial goals. You want to be sure the opportunity is worth those costs.

Do the Math

Sure, it’s easy to commit to an hour a week. But if that hour comes out of your work schedule, it’ll cost you $300–$400 a month of lost income. Will this new gig equal or exceed that income?
Maybe you wouldn’t be massaging in that time anyway. So, that opportunity will cost you four hours of self-care time, or four hours of administration time in your business, or four hours of hanging out with your friends. It’s a simple equation. Ask yourself, “Am I willing to give up X to do Y?” For example:
• Am I willing to give up a $600 Saturday at the office to work a health fair where the income is uncertain?
• Am I willing to miss dinner with my family twice a month to serve on this committee?
The equation could factor in time or money—or both. There is a cost to every commitment, and it should be measured carefully when you make these decisions.

How to Say No

Say no honestly. Don’t make up excuses or give more reasons than you have to. Don’t lie. If you reply with a kind refusal, but the asker persists, repeat and be firm. Remember, by not saying yes immediately, you bought yourself time to think through a graceful response.
Here are some ideas for a kind refusal:
• “Thank you for thinking of me, but I can’t fit that into my schedule this time.”
• “That sounds like such a great event! I’ve decided to decrease the amount of jobs that take me out of my office, so I can’t accept your kind offer.”
• “It sounds like a great opportunity, but I can’t give that project the attention it deserves.”
When you can, offer an alternative. If it’s a paying gig, suggest a colleague who may be interested. If it’s a charity or fundraiser, check out sponsorship or donation options if that’s right for you.

How to Step Away

When you need to stop doing a job or volunteer event you’ve done in the past, the technique is a little different. Give advance notice to the event planners and have a replacement in mind. Be proactive and contact the organizers before the planning begins. Send an email or make a phone call that goes something like this: “I wanted to let you know I won’t be available to work the church fair this year as I have in the past. I’ve spoken with my friend and colleague Joe, and he’s very interested in working the event. I’ve worked with him in the past and can wholeheartedly recommend him. When you begin planning, you can reach him at [phone number] or [email address]. Hope the event goes well!”
If you’re already committed to the next event, you can even let the organizers know now that you won’t be back next year. You won’t lose standing or respect in your community if you handle these situations with integrity and consideration for those organizing the event.

Be Ready for a Yes

Once you’re great at weighing the costs and are comfortable saying no, you’ll feel really confident when the right project or job comes your way. Even better, you’ll have the time and resources to say YES to the opportunities you’ll most enjoy. That’s a career—and personal—win!

Allissa Haines and Michael Reynolds can be found at, a member-based community designed to help you attract more clients, make more money, and improve your quality of life.