This image comes from the artist Eric Geusz.  Thanks Eric.  You can see more of his work on his page ‘entroz’ on Deviant Art.

No – A magic spell in two letters

No is really short.  It’s easy to pronounce.  But like any magic spell, it is dangerous, sometimes difficult to voice and it takes great skill to wield.  It can hurt, disappoint and anger.  But handled well No can create time, space and energy.

Some of us find it difficult to say No.  It is so much easier to accommodate.  We dredge up a smile and say “Okay, I’ll do it” even when we are seething with resentment.  Every community needs those who bring compassion and care.  But accommodating costs time, effort or money.  It can cost you your health.  But in every community there are ‘takers’ who know how to suck the ‘givers’ dry.

Is your life stance being ‘Nice’?  Are you are addicted to unrestrained giving?  Have you found your deep well of resentment for those who take without return.  It’s there.  Being ‘Nice’ you will submerge these feelings and cover them.  But they will emerge.  Feelings of resentment will seep into your conversations, if not with the people concerned, certainly about them.  You will begin to feel bitter, powerless even depressed.  Allowing others to take advantage of you turns good nature bad.

What is more…

You will commit yourself beyond your capacity to deliver.  Nice people don’t have the time, skill and energy to service all the varied and onerous tasks they take on.  You will fill your work time, then your rest time and then your family time.  Then the quality of your work will suffer.  You will let people down.

There is a way out of this bleak view.

There is a way to turn away unreasonable demands on your time without being cold and heartless.  It takes creativity, nuance and a dose of hard work.  As you master the magic or No you get to invest your time where you choose.  No brings spaciousness, calm and a deeper meaning to each time you say “YES”.  You can choose significance, satisfaction and joy.


Here are the basics of the skill as presented by Patti Breitman and Connie Hatch in their book “How to say No without feeling guilty…”

No Principles

  1. Keep your explanations as simple as possible. Elaboration only provides hooks for bargaining.  Let your No be No.  “I’m afraid I can’t today” is far more difficult to protest than an involved story the requester may try to ‘solve’, take offence at or catch you in a lie.  Give a valid reason if you have one.  But keep it succinct.
  2. Be ready to hold your position. Be ready to state and restate your reason without elaborating.  Stuck Record works well here.
  3. Start small. Challenge those small things in your team, your circle of friends and your family in which you usually acquiesce.  Hear yourself successfully say No.  Then stretch yourself.  Say No in more challenging circumstances.  Pick the phrases that work best for you.  Use them often.


No Technique

If you were brought up believing you MUST do whatever anyone else suggests, you may not know what to do or to say when you decide to carve out time and space for yourself.  My first attempts at saying No turned quite ugly.  These techniques will assist you to smooth over this start-up phase.

Buy yourself time

Pushy people demand your immediate commitment to their next project.  They will hold you to the slightest indication of acceptance with unrelenting tenacity.  Buy yourself time.  Get into the practice of saying “I will get back to you”.  Write it out.  Put it up in your workstation.  You can prefix this with:

  • Let me check with my wife/husband.
  • Let me check my diary.
  • Let me think about that…
  • Let me check my cash-flow.

Point to a policy

Invoke a policy.  “I am sorry, I have a policy not to lend out my car”.  Your policy adds gravity to your stance.  You are implying that you have thought about this and that it is pointless to argue, cajole or threaten.  The policy is the policy!  Rules is rules!!!

For maximum effect you should know your policy.  Think through what you stand for.  Know what removing the clutter of other peoples’ projects will allow you to achieve.

Get out of the line of fire

Sitting next to an amorous other in a car in a dark view spot is not a good time to say you don’t want to make out.  Don’t even get in the car.  Play the movie forward to anticipate the scenes where you will have to say No and choose whether you will take them on or cut them from your script.

Have ‘plans’

Allow yourself to have plans just for yourself.  Free, unstructured time is your prerogative.  How you choose to use this time is up to you.  Whether you want to spend time with family, in your community or on your own is entirely up to you.  Claim this time.  Log it in your calendar.  Treat this as an important date.  It is.  Say “No I have plans”.

Allow the other person to save face

This can be a slippery slope.  But sometimes it is caring to offer a way out for the person making the request.  If you really don’t want to go out with someone it may be humane to say you are involved with someone else.

These techniques are all quite simple.  However they require reflection, design, testing and courage.  They require creativity.  As you learn consider:

Learn to accept No with grace and poise

Your ability to survive No proves it can be done.  Reflect on the harsh No experiences you have endured.  Consider who dished them out, how you can heal and how you can give No without the same venom. And here you are.  You survived the No.  Others will survive yours.  The wise amongst them will bless you for your No.

Learn how others say No

Some people have the ability to make No sound quite reasonable and acceptable rather than a harsh rebuke.  Learn from these people.  Steal their phrases and mannerisms.

Say it!

Find your voice.   Sing in the shower.  Shout out while you are alone in your car.  Then pick the No phrases you want to use and practice saying them out loud.  Shout them out.  Shout them out loud.  Visualise yourself in a No situation.  Picture the person making the demand.  Then say the phrase.  And do it again.  And again.

Act brave

You have done the practice.  You are ready.  When you are in the situation, gather yourself and say your lines.  Even if you don’t feel particularly powerful and your voice shakes, say your line.  Say your No.

Balance your No with some desirable “YESES”

Create a section in your journal or a space on your wall where you collect descriptions in pictures or writing of how you intend to spend the time you have won back in saying No.  This can be a powerful motivator, in the moment of demand, how you will spend the next portion of your allotted time on Earth.