The art of using your ‘no’

- November 11, 2019 5 MIN READ

Did you know that every yes you give away unconsciously and without due consideration, is like adding bricks to an invisible wall between you and your aspirations?

When was the last time you said yes to something you didn’t want to do? For most of the people I meet, unfortunately, this is a daily practice. A practice that impacts our happiness, and our ability to live the life that we want.

Why do we do this? Well, I can speak for myself on this front because I have suffered from ‘people pleaser syndrome’ for years, and I’m slowly skilling in the art of ‘No’. Why? Because I have experienced how saying no has created the space for me to realise my dreams quicker, and have greater impact on the lives of others in a way that is scalable.

After spending the last four years surrounding myself with inspiring entrepreneurs pursuing positive impact, one of my greatest learnings has been that the people who seem the happiest and most successful, are the ones who have mastered the art of saying ‘No’, and they practice this art daily.

Did you know that every yes you give away unconsciously and without due consideration, is like adding bricks to an invisible wall between you and your aspirations?

So how do you learn the art of no, and use it to create the space to live a life true to yourself and your legacy?

1. Change the language of ‘no’

If you want to become an expert at ‘No’, the first place to start is to consider how the language you use impacts your ability to make change. Words help frame in your brain your sense of control. According to James Clear’s article entitled ‘A Scientific Guide To Saying No’, the words you use create a feedback loop in your brain that impacts your future behaviours. For example, every time you tell yourself “I can’t say No”, you create a feedback loop that is a reminder of your limitations. You’re effectively programming your brain to believe that you’re not capable of exercising your ‘No’. Why not try reframing your language when you need to exercise your ‘No’ to consciously saying “I can say No”. This resets the feedback loop in your brain, to remind you that you have control and the power to influence the situation.

2. Get clear on what you want

Warren Buffet would have to be considered one of the most successful self-made investors of all time, he’s also a strong advocate of the power of saying No. He’s developed a simple two-step process to eliminate and say ‘No’ to time-wasting distractions.

  • Step 1. Write down your top twenty-five life goals. Then circle the five most important to you. I personally would argue going a step further and circling just three, to really narrow your focus and move yourself closer to success quicker.
  • Step 2. Now, completely eliminate the other twenty-two goals you have listed. That’s right, cross them off. All of these additional goals are going to distract you from achieving the three, that you have determined are most important to you.

3. Create your ‘no’ selection criteria

So you’ve reframed your language, created a clear set of priorities, now you need a simple checklist to help you ‘consciously’ evaluate every opportunity or request that comes your way. These are your non-negotiables, the criteria that must be met for a yes to be given. What would this look like? Let me share with you the list that has changed the game of ‘No’ for me.

My single-minded mission is to teach 10 million humans how to intentionally adapt in order to future proof happiness, by 2025. In order to stay focused and realise this dream, I use the following criteria to assess every opportunity:

  1. Does it positively impact the lives of others?
  2. Does it support the progress of one or more of my Top 3 priorities?
  3. Will it be fun, and are the requestor’s value aligned?

Will it make money or provide access to a new growth market? Note: There is no shame in making money. Often our relationship with money is a complicated one, but here’s the thing, the more you make, the greater the impact you can have.

4. Get your ‘no’ on

Start practicing how you deliver a ‘No’ using the following framework:


Show the person you have listened to their request, e.g. “I understand that you are asking me to…”

Own It

Be honest in your response, e.g. “I’m on a mission to achieve X which means I need to be single-minded in my focus, to create the space to realise the impact I seek. Unfortunately, this opportunity is not a fit with my priorities at this point in time, but thank you for considering me.”


If you are saying ‘No’ to someone you work for, because you have too much on your plate try this, “These are the top 3 priorities I am focusing on at the moment… If you feel this is a higher priority can you please advise which of the other three priorities you would like me to put on the backburner, to create the space for your request?” Now, whilst this is not a direct ‘No’, it demonstrates you can prioritise, and puts your boss in a position to decide what is most important for the business, at that point in time.


If you’re saying ‘No’ because you feel ethically or morally compromised by what you are being asked to do, consider stepping into vulnerability and putting your ‘why’ on the table e.g. “I am not comfortable accepting this request because I feel it is not aligned with my values which are,… and this is why”.

This is a powerful way to demonstrate what you believe in, imagine how this will impact that feedback loop in your brain, we spoke of earlier.

Say “No”

Plain and simple state it, e.g. “Therefore, at this point in time I will need to say No” or “I will have to decline your offer” or “I can’t commit to that right now.”

Consider A Connect

Consider how else you might be able to help this person? Is there someone else you can connect them to that may be able to help? Is there a resource you are aware of that might assist them in planning the delivery?

Don’t Apologise

So often I hear people apologise for their ‘No’. Here’s the thing, you don’t need to be sorry about giving yourself permission to focus on what matters to you. You should be doing the complete opposite, and high-fiving yourself. So, be firm in the language you use and confident in your ‘No’. Trust me, every ‘No’ you deliver, moves you closer to where you want to be, and makes the next ‘No’ a little easier.

5. Turn the 100 no’s upside down

I have spoken many times about the brilliant concept that is ‘100 No’s’ and how this process creates a basis to practice micro-bravery, and ask for all the things you want. What if we reversed the ‘100 No’s’? What if your goal was to deliver 100 intentional and meaningful ‘No’s’? Every ‘No’ you give in response to an opportunity or request, that does not align to your goals or selection criteria above, becomes a little celebration, moving you closer to creating more and more space to focus on what fills you up. Start your reverse ‘100 No’s’ today by grabbing a large piece of butcher’s paper and writing 100 No’s on it. Put it somewhere visible to remind you daily to be conscious in your Yes’s. Every time you say “No” to something that is not aligned, tick off a ‘No’ on your ‘100 No’s’ chart. 

6. Create a celebration menu

Now, this is something a little new that my business coach shared with me. Write a Celebration Menu. What’s that you’re asking? I want you to write a menu of actions you can undertake to celebrate your practice in delivering a ‘No’. Then, every time you hit 10 out of your 100 No’s, go to your Celebration Menu and pick a reward. Rewarding good behaviour is a great way to embed change.

If having difficult conversations and delivering a ‘No’ is an ongoing challenge you’d like to work through in more detail, express your interest in our new workshop, ‘The Art Of No’.

If you have a friend or a following who could use a little help with their ‘No” feel free to share this article.

BKindred is on a mission to teach 10 million humans how to intentionally adapt, in order to future proof happiness by 2025. We put humans first in a world of technology, skilling you, your people and organisation to thrive in the future. Learn more about the Intentional Adaptability Quotient™ (IAQ™) and why it is the new competitive advantage. Are you ready for the future? Take our free Intentional Adaptability Quotient™ Self-Assessment here.

This post was written by Penny Locaso, founder of BKindred on LinkedIn and republished here with  kind permission.

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