How to say ‘No’ and why you should!

Posted: Wednesday October 30 2019


I’ll start this short blog with a true story. A couple of years ago, I was in a board meeting. We decided to debate the next section in private and due to the confidential nature of the discussion we had to ask our Company Secretary to leave. Now, before I continue it is important to set the context of who was in the room. At the time, I was the CEO and other Executive Directors, Chair and Non-Executive Directors were all there. One of my male colleagues turned to me and asked, “Are you doing the minutes, Nat?”. That’s right he asked me!

I now had a choice to make in how I would respond. It was simple. It was three words. “No, I’m not”. No big drama. No attempt to show my anger but a calm and assertive ‘no’. The impact? Guess who did the minutes? That’s right. The male director who had asked me in the first place.

I used to struggle to say ‘no’. Now I find it empowering. If you find it difficult to do, then consider the negative impact it has having on you and your career if you always say ‘yes’ to everything. Is it the right choice to make for your career? Are you picking up all the emotional labour at home and at work and struggling under the workload? To be frank, if you are then you will be missing out on opportunities, will continue to be given the less glamourous jobs and will be viewed as the person that other colleagues can dump work on. I’m sorry if that sounds blunt but it is true. Women often end up picking up the more mundane tasks because they don’t feel confident to say ‘no’.

The other reason could be the desire to be a ‘people pleaser’ and want to keep everyone happy. This is a common trait in women, and it is holding us back in the business world. Learning how to say ‘no’ doesn’t mean letting people down but sometimes putting yourself first.

So, practice saying no to some things. Keep it simple. Stick to your guns.

In summary, my top tips to saying no:

  • Stay calm
  • Be assertive but not aggressive
  • Stop being a martyr (I have been great at this in the past!)
  • Say ‘no ‘and mean it. Not perhaps or just this once
  • Don’t apologise for saying ‘no’
  • Stop worrying about others and put yourself first

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically – to say no to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger yes burning inside”. Stephen Covey.