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How to Say No: The Key to Time Management

May 30, 2013

how to say no

In order to get things done, you often have to say no to things you don’t have time for. Many people have trouble learning how to say no. Sometimes we see our task as ‘‘telling them no in such a way that they aren’t upset and they still like me.’’ But this is an almost impossible task because, if you are trying to manage another person’s reaction, you may end up losing sight of what’s important to you. You are trying to control something over which you have no control. So instead, as William Ury states in The Power of a Positive No, see your task as, ‘‘I need to tell them no in a way that is clear, honest, and respectful, and then let them react however they react.’’

Here are 21 ways to say no to other people’s requests in a way that is authentic. Your tone and underlying intent need to be congruent with your words to have a positive impact.

  1. No, thank you.
  2. Thank you for the gracious invitation. I regret that I must decline.
  3. That sounds like a lot of fun, which makes it even harder for me to decline.
  4. I’m not able to do that right now.
  5. It is no for now.
  6. I have another commitment at that time.
  7. I’m sorry, I have plans that night. Thank you.
  8. I have an important family commitment.
  9. I’d rather decline than do a mediocre job.
  10. I’d like to help out; it’s that I have other projects I am committed to finishing before I take on anything else.
  11. I’m sorry; I really can’t give that project the attention it deserves.
  12. I’d love to help, but I’m on a strict deadline for the next few days.
  13. Let me know if there’s any way I can help another time.
  14. Thank you. This really isn’t my strong suit. Let me connect you with someone who can do it.
  15. Some things have come up that need my attention.
  16. No, I won’t be able to make it, and please let me know how it goes.
  17. I’m sorry, as a general rule I don’t participate in [insert activity here]. If there’s another way I can help, let me know.
  18. I have a policy of [insert policy]. Example: ‘‘I have a policy of not gossiping.’’
  19. I can’t right now, but I can do it [insert a specific time here].
  20. Unfortunately, I have other commitments right now. If you’d like, I can get back with you at [insert a specific time here].
  21. I can’t right now, and I know you will do a wonderful job yourself.

What can you say no to that will allow you to accomplish a higher goal?

Adapted with permission from More Time for You by Rosemary Tator and Alesia Latson (Amacom Books).

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About The Author

Christina Parisi is Director of Digital Content at the American Management Association. Previously she was an Executive Editor at AMACOM Books and the Director of AMA Self-Studies.

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