Solomon Caw Marketing Blog

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Why is ‘No’ the hardest word for some people?

Can we learn to use the word?

Saying no is hard for many of us, for many reasons. Learning how, and just as importantly, when to say no is important in both your personal and professional life.


“Hey, Kat,” Jane called across the parking lot, “Hold up a sec.”

Aww, man, Kat thought, what am I getting myself into now?

“I heard from one of the other PTA moms that you make the best cupcakes ever,”Jane said as she approached, “would you be able to make some for the bake sale next weekend?”

“Sure,” Kat smiled, not even pausing, not even wondering what else might be going on, “how many?”

“Oh, 6 or 8 dozen should be fine,” Jane said, smiling, “Thanks a ton, you’re the best!”


As Jane walked away it hit Kat that she had already agreed to help with a 5k that weekend and had a work commitment Friday evening. She was berating herself as she climbed into her car, why can’t I learn to say no?


Uh oh, Roger thought as he noted the number that popped up on his cell phone, “Hi Lisa.”

“Hey Roger,” Lisa replied, “I know you’re supposed to be retired from the landscaping stuff but could you maybe just do one little thing for us?”

“Ummm, sure, what’s going on?”

“Just a small fire-pit, down where you built the patio,” Lisa explained, “if you come by this weekend Joe can show you what we want.”

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As he hung up the phone, Roger glanced at his wife.

Exasperated, she asked, “When are you going to learn to say no?”

Saying ‘yes’ too often

Is this how your daily life plays out?? Do you take on too much and then lose touch with what’s really important? Missed deadlines because there is too much on your plate? I am sure you know you are not alone, but why can some people say ‘yes’ to just the right amount of stuff while the rest of us keep letting it pile up?

Some of us have a higher sense of obligation or duty, to the point where it is detrimental to our own health, both mental and physical. We feel that saying no is going to hurt someone else’s feelings and we don’t want that. We’d rather martyr ourselves than to see another person struggle. Others always say ‘yes’ as a way to get people to like us. We need to be wanted, we don’t want people to reject us, so we don’t reject them. And then there is FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out. This can be a good thing if the opportunity is going to help your life or career in some way, but many times that event you agreed to volunteer for won’t help advance your career or your social standing.

So, how do we learn to recognize the situations when should say no and get ourselves back in control?

Is ‘no’ the right answer?

Sometimes taking on a extra project at work is a good thing, but if your plate is already full taking on that extra work or obligation might mean that everything else suffers. The trick is to decide when to say no. If the request is going to interfere with more important tasks, then say no. If the task is outside of your field of expertise and not something that you have time to learn, say no. Lastly, if the task is simply busy work dumped on you by a colleague so they have more time, say no.

But (you knew there was a “but” coming), nothing is set in stone. Maybe that busy work will move you ahead on the promotion track because upper management is keeping an eye on who slacks off. Perhaps you can make time to learn a new skill by saying no to something you have been doing forever. It is important to prioritize what is important to you both professionally, socially and personally.

Say it nicely, of course.

You’ve decided that your priorities do not include baking those cupcakes or building that firepit, so how do you politely decline? According to an article by Andrew D. Oxman and David L. Sackett in the journal Clinical Trials (2013; 10: 340-343) there are several steps to saying ‘no’.

  • Be sure ‘no’ is right for your priorities at the moment, remember that there may be something you can drop!
  • Temper your response with positive language such as: “I’m flattered that you thought of me...” or “This sounds like fun, but…”
  • Provide a valid reason for the ‘no’. If using time constraints, give some examples of other things on your plate. If the reason is a matter of priority, be honest and let the person asking know it just isn’t in your wheelhouse at the moment.

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Most of all, learn from your experiences. When you find the most comfortable way to say ‘no’, keep using it!

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Written by Roger

Roger is one of the owners of Solomon Caw Marketing. He loves writing, swimming, biking, and looking for squirrels.

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