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How to Say “No” – Even if you Hate Disappointing People

Seth Williams
4 min read
How to Say “No” – Even if you Hate Disappointing People

The word “No” is something that most people HATE to hear.

It has a tendency to frustrate, disappoint, alienate, anger and annoy a lot of the people you say it to.

Unfortunately, it’s also a word that you and I need to say…   and let’s be honest, if we want to make good decisions and steer our lives in the right direction, we need to say it a lot.

To most of us, this seems like an obvious truth – but I’m always surprised at how difficult it is for people to say “NO” with confidence (without second guessing themselves in some way).

“NO, I’m not going to lower my price by 20 percent.”

“NO, I’m not going to let you live here rent-free.”

“NO, I’m not going to give away my service because you can’t afford it.”

“NO, I’m not going to work a dead end job for less than I’m worth.”

It’s always fun to fantasize about “telling people off” in our heads – but when it comes time to deliver this kind of blunt message right to someone’s face (without hiding behind an email or ignoring the problem altogether), this can be a seriously intimidating task!

Knowing When to Say No

For years, I used to overextend myself to others when they asked for my help…   and I did it all for one ridiculous reason. I didn’t want to disappoint or discourage them.

lbjWhile it seemed like a noble cause, the unfortunate truth was that I was hurting myself and the people around me. I was stealing time away from my family and friends, just to appease strangers who were offering me absolutely nothing in return.

I allowed a lot of people to have unfair expectations of me because I was a coward and didn’t have the guts to respect my own time.

Eventually, I just got tired of it. I was tired of sacrificing my family, my friends, my work, my income, and my sanity on the alter of “people pleasing.” I needed to start saying NO much more liberally.

But how was I supposed to know which opportunities to say “No” to? They always sounded great at first glance…   and what if I mistakenly turned down the wrong person or missed out of the deal of a life time?

I started asking myself a simple “qualifying question” whenever someone approached me with their hands outstretched. After hearing their proposal, I would ask myself:

“How does this fit into my long-term plan?”

What I found was that most of the time – it didn’t and if I was going to be completely honest with myself, there were a lot of things that I needed to start turning down right away.

When I finally realized the damage I was doing by saying “Yes” to everyone, I found a new sense of confidence and self-respect that allowed me to guard my time like the valuable resource that it was.

Communicating With Tact

Allowing yourself to say “No” is important, but it’s only half the battle. You also need to deliver this message in a way that doesn’t leave  others feeling hurt, angry and defeated.

Of course, you don’t necessarily have 100% of the control over another person’s responses, but there are certainly some ways you can communicate in a kind, respectful and understanding way.

Here are some examples:

“This isn’t a good time for me right now. I’m already busy with________.”

Fill in the blank with literally anything that you deem more important…  or just tell them “I’m too busy” and leave it at that (you don’t have to divulge details if you don’t want to). This will imply that you’re not just saying “No” for no good reason.

This will also imply that you’re a busy person and they should be coming to you well in advance if they need your help with something in the future.

“I wish I could help you right now, but…”

This is a great way to show empathy and validate the other person’s request, while still saying “No”. This kind of statement tells them, “Your idea is good and I understand where you’re coming from, but I won’t be able to do it for these reasons… Obviously, you should only say something like this if it’s true (i.e. – if you hate the idea, don’t imply that you wish you could do it).

“Give me some time to think about this and I’ll let you know.”

This is a good response to use when you’re legitimately unsure whether you want to pursue an opportunity or not. If someone has a decent proposal but you need time to think it through, feel free to drop this response to buy yourself some time.

Even if your ultimate answer is “No”, at least the other person will know that their idea was legitimate enough to warrant your careful consideration.

“This isn’t the right fit for my current clients/investors/audience/business model.”

Sometimes you’ll get proposals from people that simply don’t meet your needs. When you find yourself getting pitched on a solution to a problem that you don’t have (or if it’s obvious that they have everything to gain and you have everything to lose), you need to speak up and be completely honest. Tell them that you just don’t need what they’re proposing.

It may cause some initial disappointment on their end, but it will also save them from wasting a lot of your (or their) time.

“Have you talked to so-and-so about this? I think they could probably deliver on this better than I could.”

This is a great opportunity to leverage your network and solve a person’s problem (without having to do any of the actual problem-solving yourself). If someone asks for your help and you’re not well-equipped to handle it yourself, don’t be afraid to refer them to one of your contacts who can solve the issue.

Just because you don’t solve the problem first-hand, doesn’t mean you can’t plan a pivotal role in helping them find a solution.

“No, I can’t right now.”

It’s great to show kindness whenever possible, but don’t lost sight of the fact that you aren’t always obligated to explain yourself. Sometimes the right answer is “No” and that’s all there is to it. You have equal rights in every conversation and there are plenty of times when you need to put yourself first (especially when you don’t owe the other person anything).

Turning people down is something that some people struggle with more than others. Whatever your predisposition is, I hope you’re seeing that you don’t need to be afraid of saying “No.” Sometimes it’s just the right answer – and you don’t need to feel guilty about doing what is right for yourself.
Photo Credit: Sean Davis

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.