Learn How To Say "No" With Confidence

6 months ago   •   5 min read

By Zero Machina

One of the hardest things to do is say "no" to people, things, and opportunities. However, if you want to save time and achieve your goals faster, this is a necessary skill to learn.

In this article, we’ll break down the importance of saying "no." We’ll also provide some tips to help you learn to say “no” with confidence.

A Lesson from Steve Jobs: Focus Requires Saying "No"

Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, famously said that focus is all about saying "no."

At the Worldwide Developers Conference in 1997, Jobs explained that focus is not about saying “yes” to the things one has to focus on. Instead, it’s “saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.”

He encouraged attendees to “pick carefully” and added that he’s “as proud” of the things he chose not to do as the things he has accomplished.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Jony Ive, Apple’s former Chief Design Officer, explained the important lessons he learned from Jobs about saying “no.”

Ive said that Jobs frequently asked him how often he declined opportunities. Initially, Ive responded that he would say "no" often, but only to things that he wasn’t interested in doing.

When Jobs heard this, he told Ive that he also needed to say "no" to things that did interest him. This would take great sacrifice, but would be beneficial in the long-term.

Having taken this wisdom from Jobs, Ive now believes that focus requires letting go of things you're passionate about so you can focus on what matters most.

Why You Need to Learn to Say “No”

If experts like Steve Jobs and Jony Ive are talking about the importance of saying “no,” it’s safe to say there’s some value in doing so.

So what can you get out of turning things down more often? Here are some of the top benefits professionals experience when they start saying “no."

Less Stress and Overwhelm

It’s common for entrepreneurs and professionals to want to say “yes” to everything that comes their way.

They’ve worked so hard to get where they are, and they want to keep that momentum going. They may worry that saying “no” could slow their progress or prevent them from reaching their long-term goals.

But if you say “yes” to everything, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of stress, overwhelm, and burnout.

More Time & Better Work Quality

Keep in mind that there are only so many hours in a day that you can dedicate to your work. Even Elon Musk, at some point, has to limit how many projects he takes on.

Saying "yes" to everything will limit the amount of time you have to focus on each item on your to-do list. Not only does this leave very little room in your schedule for a personal life, but it can also lead to a decrease in the quality of your work.

If you’re scrambling to do everything, you may find that you end up completing nothing. This can result in unhappy supervisors or clients, and less progress toward your goals. Ironically, these are all of the things you were afraid would happen if you said “no” in the first place.

Increased Confidence

At first, the idea of saying “no” can seem downright impossible. This is particularly true if you’re saying it to someone with a lot of power, like a boss or a long-time client.

Remember that confidence comes with repetition. The more you say “no,” the easier it will be and the more empowered you’ll feel moving forward.

You’ll feel more equipped to trust your instincts and discern what matters most when it comes to accomplishing your goals.

Your “Yesses” Carry More Weight

When you say “no” to things that don’t align with your goal or make a significant impact, you’ll find that your “yesses” carry more weight. You’ll have more integrity.

When you say “yes” to opportunities, people will know that you really mean it. They won’t worry that you’re saying it to appease them, or that you’re not fully invested.

This gives others more confidence in your decision-making. They may value your opinion more in the future, which can lead to greater opportunities and stronger relationships.

How to Say “No” with Confidence

You can see the benefits of saying “no,” but you might also feel a bit intimidated to use it.

If you need help saying “no” with confidence, here are some tips to try today.

Assess Each Request

Learning to say “no” involves learning how to evaluate each request that comes your way.

At first, a request might seem like the perfect opportunity for you to advance your career and achieve your goals. Upon further reflection, you may realize that while it sounds exciting or interesting, it’s not in alignment with your vision.

Resist the urge to say “yes” or “no” right away (especially if it's an important decision). Give yourself time to assess each request and decide on the right answer.

Be Honest With Yourself

On a similar note, be radically honest with yourself:

  • Do you have the mental bandwidth and physical energy to take on another task?
  • Will this task truly help you get closer to your goals?

Tell the truth when answering these questions, even if it’s hard. This will make it easier to prioritize your schedule and ensure you’re not overfilling your plate.

Be Direct, Yet Polite

A lot of people think that saying “no” is rude. It doesn’t have to be, though.

You don’t have to say, “No way, I would never want to do that!”

You can say, “I’m sorry, but I have to say no. This doesn’t align with my goals right now,” or “No thank you, I don’t have time for this right now.”

Be direct and clear that you’re saying no, but also be polite. This helps you maintain your professional reputation. It also increases your chances of receiving more relevant requests later on.

Offer an Alternative

Let’s say you do want to do something and it aligns with your goals. However, you simply don’t have room in your schedule to take it on right now.

If this is the case, you may want to offer an alternative. For example, you might say, “No, thank you, I don’t have time for this right now. If you circle back in a couple of months, I may have more room in my calendar.”

Practice Makes Perfect

The first time you say “no,” you might feel terrified. However, practice makes perfect.

Practice saying no before requests start trickling in. Anticipate possible scenarios. Then, when requests come around, you can say “no” and mean it.


Start Saying “No” Today

When you learn to say “no,” you take back your power and become a more productive professional. You’ll notice a decrease in feelings of stress and overwhelm. And you’ll have more time to do what matters, empowering you with self-confidence in your time management abilities.

If you’re looking for an easy way to start saying “no” to what doesn’t matter, and “yes” to what does, give Undock a try.

Undock makes it easy to say “yes” to meetings that fit everyone's schedule. You can set preferred times of day, meeting limits, focus time, and more to customize your availability to the world.

Sign up and try it out today.

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