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on Leading the Next Generation


How to say no: 3 tips to gracefully say no

I have concluded that what defines a leader today is not so much their ability to say “yes”, but their ability to say “no.” Learning how to say no can be life-changing. It’s possessing the skill to sniff out what fits into your wheelhouse and what would be a distraction. Let’s face it. America is the land of opportunity and today, we’ve created more opportunities that ever. Most leaders can’t handle it.

how to say no

The most accurate words to describe our lives today are:

  • Overwhelmed
  • Options
  • Obese
  • Open-minded
  • Over-committed
  • Opportunities

We have a hard time saying no to anyone or anything. We don’t want to miss our chance to catch that big break or that next promotion. We don’ want to be narrow.

On the other hand, most of us would dearly like to reduce and simplify. We are weary of all the tasks, clutter and noise around us. If only we could learn how to say no to the people who approach us with another “opportunity.”

Let me offer some simple reminders of how you can do this.

How To Say No Gracefully…

When we know who we are, what our gifts are, and what our calling is, it’s easier to determine the “yes’s” and “no’s” of life. As a leader, when a task would not further your team’s goal, you are a steward of that team’s time, resources and talents and you are embezzling from the team if you say yes. You need to say no, even if it is a friend. The way you say no, however, is just as important as deciding to say it.

  1.  Say no to the idea not to the person
    Make sure the person understands that you are not rejecting them. You’re simply saying no to what they want you to do. Give their idea affirmation, but explain that it doesn’t fit with your calendar or current responsibilities.
  2. Respond in terms of the interests of the person asking.
    Make sure the person knows that you’re not choosing the easy response, but that you want to genuinely help them. Communicate that your time constraints would prevent you from doing the kind of work they deserve.
  3. Defer graciously. Come up with an alternative for them.
    Be a problem-solver and help them complete their task. Give them confidence that they can do it, or suggest someone to them who would be better than you to do it, in terms of available or gifts. This adds value as it meets their need.

This list is only a beginning. Let’s add to it. What’s your best advice for how to say no?



  1. Matt Palka on May 15, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    I want to do the exercise with FCCLA chapter students that was in one of your Habitudes books. It’s the list of things you want to do in your life that comes easy, but the effort to write the list of what you need to do less of that comes with more difficulty. My best advice on how to say no is to tell him or her that you wouldn’t add as much as value to the opportunity as you could at the moment. I would also keep in contact with them for the future and help them in some way. Even a small, efficient task could add value. 

    • Tim Elmore on May 17, 2012 at 7:32 pm

      Great advice – thanks for adding to the conversation!

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  3. Benjamin on July 7, 2022 at 6:13 am

    Thanks for the post. It sounds quite easy, but first of all you have to say no to yourself. There are a lot of things that kill us, like bad habits, and I’m sure that a lot of readers suffer from various addictions like smoking, alcohol, etc. I remember when I found my first online casino. I played for a long time, and it was not successful. After that I understand, that I have to find a reliable casino with limits. This site helped me to review the best Aussie casinos. Now I know where I can play without any risks.

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How to say no: 3 tips to gracefully say no