Saying No to Colleagues, Friends and Family

Be Firm, Be Polite, but Still Say No

Have you ever said “Yes” to work colleagues, friends or family members, when your mind has been screaming at you to say “No”? We do it because we want to be seen as helpful and not rude. But what about you, every time you say yes to someone else you are in fact saying no to yourself. Invariably when we agree to help someone else we end up missing something that is important to us or to those close to us. Have you ever missed a parents evening or school play because you agreed to help someone out, instead of saying no, and it all went wrong, or you just didn’t give yourself enough time?

Saying no to colleagues, friends and family

Yesterday we spoke about distractions of the technological type. If you have not read it you can find it here Focus – 3 ways to help improve it. Today we are going to talk about those human distractions that are often disguised as work colleagues, friends and even family members.

Below are some hints and tips that will help you when saying no without being rude or impolite.

Saying no by being direct & to the point:

The most polite way to say no involves being brief, direct and honest. Don’t leave it open to debate. Tell them why you’re unable to help but keep it simple. For example, say that you’re very busy at the moment and you wouldn’t be able to give their request the attention it deserves.

Refer to someone else:

Another effective technique is to refer them to someone else who can help. Tell them, “I’m not the best person for this right now, but how about so-and-so?” This is far better than just saying no.

Use ‘Yes, but’ statements

If you get interrupted or find yourself in one of those conversations that looks as though it will never end, try using a “Yes but….” statement. Start by demonstrating that you are both interested and understanding of their situation, and finish with a convincing reason that shows why it’s important that you carry on with whatever you were doing before you were interrupted, for example:

“Yes I will look at that, but right now a customer is waiting for me to call them with a quote.”

“I wish I could help right away, but I’m busy and won’t be able to do it till later.”

“I’d love to help, but I have to leave now”

To make “Yes but…” statements work, one part or the other must meet either of the following two criteria:

  1. Time is limited for reasons outside of your control, and you have no choice but to cut the conversation short
  1. The person to whom you are talking will gain by leaving you alone.

Regardless of what wording you use when saying no, always follow the statement with decisive action. Don’t wait for the other person to leave or stop talking; take the action required to get yourself back on track. Shake his or her hand and walk away, say goodbye and hang up the telephone, or turn towards your computer and start pounding away on the keyboard.

This is particularly important when you are asked for “a few minutes to discuss an important issue”. You have to be firm and stand your ground when saying no; you can promise to help as soon as you have finished what you are doing, or suggest someone who might be able to provide assistance sooner. But don’t give in unless your boss or someone higher up is doing the asking. Nothing takes only “a few minutes.”

What If they’re Not Okay with Your Answer?

The above tactics are a piece of cake when the person on the other end says ‘okay’ and accepts that you are saying no. But what if they press you to explain more or try to get you to change your mind? It takes a little bit of experience to learn how to handle these situations, but just remember that you don’t have to give them every detail of what you’re doing. If you explain, they’ll just use your explanation to try to wheedle your time out of you. Just tell them that you’re too busy at the moment and leave it at that.

By implementing the above tips and saying no to others when you have to, you will soon be taking control of your time and people will respect you because they will consider you to be both honest and respectful of their time.

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Till Next time

Mike Gardner is The Time Doctor


Mike Gardner aka ‘The Time Doctor’ and is highly regarded as one of the UK’s leading Time Management and productivity specialists. As well as being regularly featured in both online and off-line media outlets around the world, he is the author of the best selling time management book, Business Owners: Your Family Misses You. He regularly speaks on topics that are congruent with his mission of helping small business owners, entrepreneurs and independent professionals to be incredibly productive, whilst still balancing their business and family commitments in a way that enables them to feel fulfilled and guilt-free. He is an avid Aston Villa fan, a Dad to Neil & Emma, a hubby to Wendy and in his role as an Officer with the reserve forces, he has completed operational tours of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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24 thoughts on “Saying No to Colleagues, Friends and Family

  1. When I started my business from home I found myself neglecting the day to day running of my business because I found it hard to say no to family members. But I soon realised that I had to stand firm and set bounderies so that my business did not suffer.

  2. Great article Mike.
    I read somewhere recently, that when you’re saying yes to everything, you have time for nothing…
    I think we’re all guilty of saying yes to others – to avoid disappointing them. It’s easier to say yes. No causes a little friction, but I know that I need to start to heed this advice, as saying yes draws me into to many things that are not congruent with the direction that I want to be going…

    It just reminded me of another great quote – “Do what I say, but just don’t watch me too closely” – I think it’ from John Carlton…

    • Thanks for dropping by Adrian, for such a snall word, NO, has so many negative comotations, but saying the word Yeas too often has the biggest personal impact.

  3. Great post, Mike. Learning to say, No, is an art and takes time to develop this skill. The thing to remember is that when someone makes a request and you tell them, No, it does not matter how sweetly you do it, 9 out of 10 persons will be offended, or think you’re being mean.

    Not only is it self-preservation at times, because there’s only so much you can do well, but also it can be a way to preserve a relationship. You say, Yes, because you don’t want to offend someone, but you seethe with resentment and internalize your anger or frustration…that’s not good either and eventually if it continues it’s going to reflect in your attitude.

    I continue to work on this as No sometimes involve telling people who want to stop for a chat because you’re home.

    I like the strategies you outlined, especially the need to take decisive action. Thank you, Mike.
    Yvonne A Jones recently posted…Easy Strategies to Develop Relationships with Your CustomersMy Profile

  4. Great post Mike! I talk about this a lot with clients. It’s amazing how much time you save, plus it builds your confidence and so many other fabulous things 🙂

  5. Great advice, Mike.
    I try to NOT give a reason for saying No because then the other person has leverage to argue with me (especially if they know me!). eg, “No, I’m busy” Reply “Well, how about this evening when you’re watching TV” or “but you’ve just finished that project so you can take time before starting the next” and so on.

    And if they do argue – I try the “broken record” approach ( but folks don’t know about broken records these days, do they?!) I’m sure you’ll remember that if the record was broken it just repeated the same thing over and over…
    “No, I’m busy…reply argument… No, I’m busy…. reply 2nd argument… No I’m busy” and so on!
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  6. Saying “no” is so hard to do. I used to feel rude and selfish for turning someone down. Now saying “no” occasionally is pure self-preservation.
    Thanks for sharing, your post is very timely.
    Tammy recently posted…AfterShave BalmMy Profile

  7. I often talk to clients about how a vote *for* something is a vote *against* something else. I like your advice on how to do No well.