May 08

The Difficult Yet Liberating Art of Saying No

saying no

There’s nothing wrong with saying no.

“Say no to everything, so you can say yes to the one thing.”
― Richie Norton

One of the toughest enemies of productivity is our inability to say “No”.  More than trying to please the people around us, it often stems from our desire to avoid hurting other people’s feelings especially the ones closest to us.

I consider saying no as one of my weaknesses and one that I’ve struggled to overcome even to this very day.

One particular instance I can remember was when I was just starting out at a BPO company here in Manila.  My team back then was made up of just 11 agents if I remember it correctly and we were all spread out into different shifts.  It was a day shift job and everyone was out by 5:00 PM except for one agent who needs to stay back until 7:30 PM for our India support (they’re two to three hours behind us).

I had a date scheduled with my then girlfriend (who’s now my wife) on that day and I was set to go out at 5:00 PM sharp when, out of sloppy scheduling, my manager realized that we didn’t have anyone who would stay back for India support.

I had a bad feeling about it because everyone left in a hurry except for myself and one of our Chinese-speaking agents (as if they knew what was coming) and just as I was about to stand up and grab my stuff, my manager, who was hiding all day behind her cubicle, stood up and gave me a glance that I wished I never saw.


That’s all I can tell myself because I knew what that look meant.  She didn’t even have to open her mouth to tell me what I already saw coming but I didn’t totally lose hope because good old Mike Chen is still here!  He’s a great guy and he always takes one for the team.

“You have to stay behind for India Support.” my boss said.

“Sorry Ma’am but I have a date scheduled with my girlfriend tonight and I’m on my way to pick her up.” I replied with an embarrassed grin on my face.

“Mike, can you stay?”  she said as she turned to Mike who was still finishing up.

“Sorry, I’m about to leave.” he said cold-heartedly.

“Then you have to stay.  Sorry.” was all my manager said as she quickly went back to her kingdom.

I could have said no and just walk away.  I could have declined and plead my case or stood my ground and let Mike cover for India support but I didn’t have the guts.

  • I was the new guy and I had to make a good first impression.
  • I didn’t want Mike or my boss to think ill about my work ethic.
  • I didn’t want to get fired because of not following the boss’ orders.
  • They might think I’m selfish.

These were the things running through my mind and I felt I didn’t have a choice even if it meant sacrificing time I should be spending with my girlfriend.  We were supposed to have dinner and enjoy each other’s company and that all disintegrated in less than five minutes.

Saying no is no easy task but it is necessary especially in situations when our happiness and productivity is on the line.  It may be difficult but it’s not impossible and here are some points to consider:


Your time is valuable

Each and every second you spend at work has a dollar equivalent and as a responsible employee, we owe the company good service by being productive.

You have your responsibilities cut out for you and it is imperative you stick to your job description.  Any extra requests that are not in your list should take a backseat.  If you have time left after finishing your tasks, then maybe you can accommodate them.  You don’t have to feel guilty if it’s not your job in the first place.


Know your priorities

While it is work that helps us pay the bills and put food on the table, it doesn’t necessarily have to take precedence over family or personal time and this is what my usual advise is to most of my friends who are struggling to achieve work-life balance.

One of my friends who works as an AVP for a top international bank has been getting sick a lot lately.  She attributes this to working long hours and the stress her staff and volume of work brings.  The unfortunate part is that even when she calls in sick, her boss would still have her join meetings or send reports.

I told her that she shouldn’t be allowing this to happen.  There’s got to be boundaries that her boss would have to respect.  If she has to turn off her phone, she has to do it!  She should be resting if she doesn’t feel well.  I told her to put the phone on silent if she feels guilty about it.


Saying No doesn’t make you a bad person

In my opinion, this is the biggest reason we can’t say no.  We think it’s bad.  We think we’re not being helpful by saying it.  We think we’re being selfish.

The truth of the matter is, it isn’t.  Before you start caring for others, you need to start caring for yourself first.  Take it from Whitney Houston who said that learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.

You might be laughing at my example but if you think about it, she is spot-on!


You don’t need to apologize

When people ask for favors, they are asking for a piece of your time and as polite as all of us may be, we don’t need to apologize when saying no.  Be firm without being rude.  Be unapologetic without being an asshole.

Saying sorry makes you sound weak.  Remember that they are asking and there’s nothing to be sorry about if you can’t give them what they’re asking for.


“I’ll Get Back to You”

If you really are a nice person and you can’t get rid of the guilt, one way you can say no without stepping on people’s toes is to just say “I’ll get back to you” or “let’s talk about it later?”

Just make sure that if you ever use these lines that you really will get back to them and you’re not just holding them off so they won’t disturb you.


Say it in advance

My family and I went on vacation this past weekend.  It was an hour boat ride before we reached the island of Puerto Galera which was absolutely stunning.  Before I went, I made sure to announce to everyone in the office that I won’t be reachable and that I won’t be available for escalations.  I mean, what’s the point of going on a vacation if I’m going to bring my laptop there right?

Doing this isn’t being irresponsible.  In fact, it is the opposite because you’re setting the expectation as early as possible.  This is also an effective way of setting healthy boundaries.


Ignore what other people may say

One of the reasons why we find it difficult to say no is because of our fear of what other people might say about us.  Does it really matter?  The funny thing about trying to please everyone is that you will always end up on the losing end.

As long as you’re doing your part and as long as you’re doing the right thing, there is nothing to fear.

Saying no, even to your boss, doesn’t make you a bad person.  It doesn’t make you irresponsible or selfish either to guard your productivity and prioritize your happiness.  It isn’t worth making people happy if doing so doesn’t make you happy too.


Over to You

Is it difficult for you to say no?  Why?

I would love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment or share your story below and practice saying no while you’re at it.


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Noel Rosos

About Noel Rosos

Noel is a husband, father, author, performance coach and self-proclaimed FAILUROLOGIST who helps business owners and struggling individuals convert their failures into opportunities through inspiring blog posts, life-changing books and exceptional one-on-one coaching sessions


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  1. Julian Sirian (@JulianSirian)

    Brilliant post, because I’ve had that same problem over my twenties.

    I’ve been manipulated, and made to feel guilty. I’ve felt like I’ve been selfish, and made to do things, that I didn’t want to do (although in truth, nobody can ultimately make you do things, but it’s taken me a long time to realize that truth).

    The result is that I’ve spent a long time in a reality that I’ve not liked. Not a big issue from the casual observer, but when I put my head on that pillow, or when I wake up in the early hours of the morning, I get big regrets and sometimes a heavy heart (I’m already heavily nostalgic about my past…) It’s me that suffers, not the person in authority.

    Still, I look back and am grateful that I’ve learn’t to be a bit stronger, so it’s not all bad news… but saying no is a valuable art, especially if you try to be a people pleaser.

    Thanks for posting

    1. Noel Rosos
      Noel Rosos

      Thanks Julian. Believe it or not I’m still battling with that same guilt you mentioned time and again. It’s like I hate to disappoint people and can’t shake the feeling off if I felt I did. I guess we just need to balance everything and make sure that we prioritize our responsibilities firt above others’.

  2. Belle

    Nice post Noel, I had a difficulty saying no to my sister in law she is fond of borrowing money every now and then. And yes I do apologize to her because I can’t lend her the amount that she is borrowing because ‘limitado budget namin at ayokong isipin nya na madamot ako.” I had a sigh of relief after reading your post now I know that I won’t have to do that anymore.

    Keep it up!

    1. Noel Rosos
      Noel Rosos

      Glad to hear that Belle. Always remember that you dont owe anyone an apology because they are the one asking for a favor. You have every right to say no if you need to.

  3. Sharon Tobin

    Our word mean nothing if we can’t say ‘No’. If we continually say yes to everything, we are in jeopardy of not fulfilling what we say we are going to do. This can result in the really bad habit of starting many things and completing very few. This article would be of help to the many people who need encouragement to do as they say and say as they mean. Thanks noel.

    1. Noel Rosos
      Noel Rosos

      Absolutely Sharon! This is exactly what this article is for which is to help people prioritize the more important stuff and not feel guilty about it. Nothing wrong with saying no.

      Thanks for your comment! Cheers!

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