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PRIORITIZE: The Delicate Art of Saying No


How many times in a day do we hear this word, “No”? Did I set an alarm? No! Can I get a discount for this coffee? No! Did you make it to work on time? No! Did you contact the client? No. No. No. Hearing those two letters sounds so terrible and turns a switch inside our heads to make us feel disappointed, depressed, and unmotivated but only for a few seconds. Nevertheless, we have to keep moving forward and move past it. Often, we hear that we ought to focus on the positive and are expected to say Yes to everything. But there are times when we do have to say No. We need the wisdom to discern when this is applicable.

Why does NO sound so bad to us?

It is probably one of the first few words we learn as babies and from that stage we already know that it is related to something bad. No, don’t go there! No, don’t eat that! No, that is dirty! And since we hear it so often it is no wonder, we easily learn to say no. But once those words come out of our own mouths, we are scolded by our parents because we are not following their instructions or we are not behaving according to what they expect. This then makes the word “no” a forbidden word. A word that will make adults angry. It then becomes a subconscious program that tells us that saying no is a bad thing that we carry all our lives.

Networking and Saying Yes

Now you are all grown up, have your own business, and doing networking to increase your business. Good for you! You have probably said yes to a lot of things to get here. Now that you are networking though you are extending your expertise to other people. Aside from taking care of your business and yourself. Referrals come in in droves and start to overtake your business more than you expected. This results in overtimes and sleepless nights and sometimes other things that are more important becomes neglected. You try to add more man power but hiring and supervising new hires also take up more time. By the end of it you are exhausted and stretched

Now don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying you shouldn’t participate. And getting more business for your company is always good especially referrals because the name of our referrers is on the line. What is important is that you should be able to perform at your best and that means to prioritize what is important and that you have harmony with all aspects of your life. Sometimes the only way to do that is to say no to some things. Saying No can be difficult but it is an important aspect of prioritizing what is important to you without sacrificing the relationship you have built.

What are the things you should say no to?

1. Last minute tasks that you have not time to research or learn

You may have Iron Man’s genius, and have a grasp on how everything works. However, you have to accept your humanity and that you don’t know everything. Of course, there is nothing wrong about learning something new and acquiring a new skill. If you have time to learn it and research about it then go ahead. But if the task needs to be done in a few hours, or worse in just a few moments then realistically speaking it can end up as a disaster. Better say no than to give a bad experience.

2. Interests of which you have no experience or expertise

Similar to the first reason, there are things that you are interested about that may be outside your field. Sometimes though these interests need a bit more than just research. Sometimes you need to have the actual experience or knowledge to be able to perform the task. You need to study and train. If a friend asks you to cater for an event because you can cook, you may have to say no because a hobby and actual professional catering are two different things. Unless you have experience, you may give a bad service and sadly your friend will also get a bad reputation.

3. Things you absolutely cannot do

As Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean once said, “The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do.” As humans we have limitations. And being aware of those limitations are one of the things that can be the source of our strength. Because sometimes what was perceived as a limitation may actually be just a hurdle that you need to overcome. But there are definitely limits, our cells can only multiply for a set number of times. Time is limited to only 24 hours per day. The list goes on. The strength we are talking about comes from the knowledge to discern which factors do we have control of and which one are not within our scope of influence. Of course, those that we can control we can surpass those limits. But for those not within our control then we can just let them be and not stress over it.

There are also values that we believe in that place limits on what we should do. Even if we can hurt someone that doesn’t mean one should. It will be against personal values and the values of society. So, for example you learned you are diabetic and you are offered cake. You should say no because you don’t want to get worse and you value the time you still have and you want to live life a bit longer.

4. Schedule Conflict

As I said, we are limited to only 24 hours per day. Half of which is dedicated for sleep. So be sure to be aware of what you can do within the hours that you are given. You cannot say yes to things that will clash with your schedule especially those who have the most value in your life. Time waits for no one so make sure that you make the most of your time and say no to things that will waste it.

Courage and Confidence

As a last note in identifying what we should say no to, being afraid or shy is not a reason to say no especially if you are perfectly capable. That butterfly in your stomach is just a fight or flight response we got from our ancestors and you know what, most of the time in face of unsurmountable odds many chose to fight. So aside from those 4 mentioned, say yes to new experiences and challenges.

How can I you say no without being a jerk?

So now you know what to say no to, now how do we say no without burning bridges. Although there are times that bridges will be burned but we should do our best not to break any relationships you have built. So, what are the best ways to let down someone without breaking their hearts?

1. I can do it somehow but it may not be up to your expectations or worse I will fail.

This is a positive although indirect way of saying no. It indirectly tells that the end result will not be what they wanted and so it would be best that they get someone else. For some though this may not be so effective especially if they have no other options so it is best to use this for people that have other options other than you.

2. No! But I know someone who fits what you need, let me introduce you

In line with networking, referring someone who will do a better job than you are one of the better ways to say no. This way they can get the same result of getting the task done and they won’t feel so bad towards you because you didn’t leave them hanging. This is probably the best option you have if you have a lot of people in your network.

3. I cannot give you what you are looking for but this is what I can provide.

Sometimes you cannot give 100% of what they want but maybe you can provide 60% or maybe a different type of help. For example, if you are a catering company and someone asks you to cater for a contest but you are not able to because of conflict in schedule. Then maybe you can offer a voucher for free food or discounts. Sometimes you just can’t but if you can still help then the person will still appreciate it.

4. No I just can’t help you with that. I’m sorry.

Well there really sometimes that you cannot offer any form of consolation to. So, the most efficient way is just to say no and say sorry. Say it in a sincere and polite manner. Don’t feel bad to say no repeatedly if necessary. Sometimes there are people who just can’t accept a no. It may take some time and repeated attempts but as long as you are polite about it and never turn into anger, then eventually they will have to accept your answer.


Deciding to say Yes or No to an offer is a sign of wisdom and maturity. Saying Yes to everything has its own merits and opens up a lot of possibilities for business. However, over time one has to understand one’s limits and evaluate which is more valuable to you and your business. Saying no can be difficult but it is a better alternative than not being able to help people and give a sub par performance. You have to prioritize what is best for the one asking for help, for you, and for everyone. Sometimes the best help you can give someone is to just say no.

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