How to Say No with Confidence

Stop Being a ‘Yes Man’

People don’t like to say no. Saying no in business and in your personal life, however, is a necessary skill.

As an employee, especially in customer facing roles, being a ‘yes man’, is often drilled into you. Not just in work, but at home, even with friends, and people in general.

I guarantee you’ve sat for a while sometimes trying to think of an excuse to get out of something such as a friend party, or visiting relatives.

Maybe you don’t want to meet for drinks tonight. Perhaps you just have OTHER things to do, that actually are more important to you.

People are quite often so afraid of delivering a no, they surround the no with excuses or stories, in order that the recipient doesn’t get offended.

We’ve all heard the dreaded, “I’d love to, but… (insert bullshit excuses here)”.

This is due to the inexplicable, and irrational fear of the word ‘why’. This fear in business is extremely unhealthy.

The Fear of Why

People will conveniently package a no with an explanation or excuse to avert the ‘why’ being asked, for fear of having to explain themselves.

It’s as if the word ‘no’ is a sinful, second-class option that you should never use, when in fact, it’s the ‘why’, that’s the rude part of this scenario. If people accepted no as an answer, things could be a lot easier.

When your job is explaining bad things away, and smoothing over otherwise potential negative situations, such as customer service, this could be seen as an acceptable way of doing things.

In customer facing position, if it’s your job to keep people happy, then this course of action could be considered necessary.

In business or project leadership situations, however, this is not the case at all.

If you’re ever in a position of leadership of any kind, you NEED to make decisions. It is absolutely 100% impossible to be a leader and never say no, so it’s about time you got good at it. No’s are equally as important as yes, of course.

You need no’s  in order to go in the right direction. But it’s the wrongly interpreted negativity attached to the word no, that becomes the problem.


When people are asking for a decision, it is presumed (quite often wrongly) that they are ultimately, looking for a yes.

More often than not, after hearing the word no, it is anticipated that the absolutely evil word ‘why’ will follow shortly after. It’s easy to build up a resistance to say no, or prepare a pre-ordained speech to insert either before, or after the word no.

I’ve completely lost count of the bullshit stories and fluff I’ve had to endure before receiving a no. I personally would rather someone cut to the chase, and gave me a quick and efficient no, and stop wasting my time.

Years ago, I knocked on doors in England, canvassing for leads for double-glazed windows and doors.

I used to get doors slammed in my face on a regular basis, as they yelled, “NO!” (or words to that effect), and I appreciated EVERY SINGLE ONE of them.

These people didn’t waste a second of my time, gave me a no efficiently, and allowed me to move on to find a buyer.

The WORST types of people, were the one that stood and listened to everything you said for around 10 minutes, and THEN casually said no.

Quite often people waited until you were finished talking before saying no, for fear of being impolite. Screw that… I would rather be told straight to fuck off, have a door slammed in my face, and move on.

No is Not a Bad Thing

We’ve been taught that to say no is a bad thing.

This is 100% incorrect, and I disagree with this notion with EVERY SINGLE bone in my body.

So how does this nogativity develop?

If no’s are so necessary, how do they become the 8th deadly sin, in modern society?

I think this starts at a VERY early age.

Childhood ‘No’s

As Children, we ask questions about things as a form of discovery. We’re learning how the world works.

This leads us as parents to attempt to fill in the gap between the ‘no’, and the ‘why’.

We are ultimately hoping that there will be no, “Why?”, at all, by inserting he reason why you can’t, before, or after the ‘no’.

As a parent, I can assure you, this does NOT work. They’re gonna ask anyway, it’s their job.

Also, if you say no, sometimes there are tears and tantrums.

This is always a negative experience.

Teen Challenges

Teenagers begin questioning EVERYTHING, and challenging adult decisions.

This is how they find their way in the world. They’re fighting for adult freedoms. They’re not disrespecting you, they’re fighting their way out of the womb, and eventually out of the house.

Teenage angst at these decisions, will ultimately, usually, lead to rebellion. This rebellion will lead to a ‘learning mistake’.

We’ve all been there. This is all part of growing up.

Young Adult Challenges

Young adults are still finding their way in the world.

Not only do they question everything, but find it necessary to challenge decisions, people in authority, and almost everything around them.

In some way, they seem to believe they have ‘won’ a fight or discussion, if their opinion was correct.

Young adults will often argue over ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING.

Always trying to prove how right they are about everything. The level of impatience during young adult life, and frustration at the lack of progress, is astounding.

Some people NEVER grow out of this stage in their life. I know people in their late 50’s, that never outgrew this part of their personality, and will still fight and argue over the most ridiculous points.

Customer Service Challenges

Customers of all ages, in almost every business, are a challenge within themselves.

Quite often, customers can become extremely unreasonable within their pursuit of a yes to their enquiry.

Frustration can boil over, and generate quite irrational complaints. When running a paintball park for a few years, I often had people complaining that they weren’t allowed to do extremely unsafe things.

Anyone that has worked in customer service of any kind, will understand the above statements.

We’ve all had issues we needed to resolve, and became part of a negative environment when things weren’t going our way.

Don’t Make Excuses or Give Reasons

Throughout our lives, through receiving ‘no’s and delivering them, we can often fall into using skills of delivering ‘no’s in more ‘acceptable’ ways.


We really have no need to explain ourselves to anyone, but I know that sometimes you’ll even sit and discuss a good excuse or story to tell someone, in order that the no is accepted a little easier (ever took a day off work?).

Even at the beginning of a start-up business, where you are the person dealing with customers, you are still doing it with customers.

This is okay, and often necessary, as part of dealing with a person in this type of business, or personal relationship.

It’s handling people. People are irrational, they occasionally need to be let down gently.

The problem is, when you apply this situation to decision-making in business, however, it’s nothing more than time consuming, irrelevant, and can create a lot of problems.

Quite often, when you wrap up a no with an excuse, or a reason, people think it’s open season for rebuttal, which it isn’t.

Leadership Decisions

When leading, you need to make decisions. In order to make those choices, you will often choose no, and there’s no harm in this at all.

Imagine if you were the head of a meeting where ideas were being presented, guidance being sought, company directions and tactics are being discussed.

Consider that in business, quite often the majority of your decisions are going to be a ‘no’.

If every single time you delivered a no you had to explain yourself and discuss it, those meetings could take hours.

They would definitely take a lot longer, and mean you may not have time for the good stuff.

Some issues could drag on for days, or even weeks, if a decision isn’t reached in an efficient and logical manner. Therefore, getting to a no quickly and efficiently, is a good thing.

You absolutely MUST BE decisive.

A strong, and decisive leader, will be able to provide guidance, and steer the ship where it needs to go.

No Explanation Necessary

Why is it that a yes is so easily accepted, but a no must be explained or debated?

In business, there should absolutely no need for an explanation, ever, nor should you ask for one, as a recipient of a ‘no’.

When you’re leading in business, you should have no need to explain yourself to anyone.

You’re the person in charge. You know what is necessary, you have the vision, you’re the one doing it.

No’s should disappear, the moment they are a no.

You don’t have the time, and neither should it be expected of you, to discuss and debate every decision you ever make.

This is absolutely important, because yes’s need MUCH more attention.

Yes’s Need More Attention than No’s

Yes’s usually involve something you’re actually GOING to do.

You may have actions necessary, targets to establish, goals to set, plans of action to decide and assign, tasks to delegate.

A yes is the one that needs to be discussed, and are worthy of taking as long as it takes.

These are the things that should take up most of the time, to get moving in the right direction.

Yes’s are the things worth getting excited about. Focusing on a no, is like moving backwards.

So how do you say no?

This is pretty simple, and has a few rules to follow, to enable you reach the right decision, and not hurt anyone’s feelings.

How To Say No

When it comes to saying no, there are right ways, and wrong ways to go about it. Here are a few things to consider when saying no, to ensure it goes smoothly.

1. Always be concise, and firm

Don’t be wishy-washy with your no. Always be quick, polite, and to-the-point.

Here are a few examples of a direct, simple, no;

  • No, that doesn’t work for me at all.
  • I don’t think so.
  • I’m going to have to disagree with you there.
  • That’s going to have to be a no.
  • I don’t see the benefit of this proposal, so no.
  • There’s no way I could accept this idea.

2. Never criticize the idea itself, or the person involved

Criticism of people, or their ideas, hurts.

There is never a reason to hurt anyone’s feelings when letting them down. It will only leave them feeling demoralized.

Be careful to never say anything negative about the person, or the idea or suggestion itself.

3. Make a Statement

Sometimes the best way to say no is best said without using the word itself, but making a statement.

Here are a few examples;

  • I can’t see how this would work at all.
  • With our current strategies already in place, I don’t see this as the best approach.
  • I’ve looked into this idea, and don’t believe it will work.
  • We aren’t going in this direction.
  • We are not going to do that.
  • This won’t be the direction to go in.

4. Be True to Your Vision

When making the decision, be true to your vision.

Remember, that when deciding if this is a yes or a no, you are trying to move forwards in a better way.

You can recite your manifesto in your answer, and use this to deliver a no that backs up that vision. This will help everyone stay true to your corporate culture, and furthermore, make your vision a part of almost everything your company does.


“As Metroplex is a youth oriented, hungry brand, we are looking to broaden our horizons in new markets. In doing so we are going to need to take some risks, and challenge the status quo.  Staying on the safe side is not the direction I’m happy to go in.”

5. Never Wrap it up in Bullshit

There’s nothing I hate more than being let down ‘gently’, with a comment dripping in sarcasm and bullshit.

If it’s a no, say no. Don’t say something like this;

“Well,  I really did like the idea, and I can see you put a lot of work into the presentation. The only thing I would say about it, is that at the moment, it doesn’t line up with our marketing vision.”

If you don’t like the idea, say so. No amount of bullshit is going to make me feel better.

6. Don’t use the Dreaded ‘BUT’

Nobody wants to hear the ‘dreaded but’. Nobody wants to be patronized.

This either generates contempt from the individual, because they know you’re patronizing them, or can give them false hope. If they think you really liked the idea, they may continue to work on similar ideas, and constantly get rejected.

It’s much better to be 100% honest, and forthright.

You’re not a 5th grade teacher, you have no reason to talk down to people.


“I think the idea is absolutely fantastic, but there’s no room in our calendar for this event this year.”

Give me a break, please.

5. Suggest Improvements

If you like the idea, but it’s not quite right, definitely make suggestions to improve it.

Remember NEVER to criticize the idea in any way, or the person that came up with it (they may have worked hard on this presentation).

When suggesting improvements, don’t say you like the idea (as a whole) first. Instead, indicate interest, then make suggestions as to what might guide this into a brilliant idea.

Ask a question, so that the person receiving the no, understands what you’re looking to achieve with the improvement. It must sound positive, and encourage them to move in the right direction with confidence. Take them on a voyage of discovery.

When you’re done, suggest that if we can get this right, it’s a go. At the same time, make sure you word it as a possibility, not something you would DEFINITELY want to do.

Here are a few examples of suggesting improvements;

  1. “This is pretty intreaguing, and so far I’m interested. Let’s see what would happen if we took out some of the complicated details. What I’d like to know is, can we simplify it, to make the whole thing more intuitive? We need to consider the user experience, and how it matches up with our current products. If we can do that, I think we could have a winner here.”
  2. “I’m almost on the same page here. What I’d be excited to see, is if we took the design and made it more aggressive looking, would that detract from the overall functionality? Let me see what you can come up with, and report back to me. I’m sure if we can find the right balance, this may work out for us.”

Don’t suggest improvements just to make someone feel better. It’s a waste of your money, their time, and if eventually leads to a no, only gets worse than saying no right away.

6. Make a Better Suggestion Altogether

You’re the leader, right? You’re supposed to know what you really want.

Whilst this may often be difficult to do, you can take someone else’s idea, shut it down, and shift their attention in a new direction.

Sometimes a new approach can get you out of a rut, exploring newer ideas, and moving in the right direction.

Such as;

“It could be a much more productive use of our time to find out what exactly causes the issue. Instead of trying to put a Band-aid on it, and expect it to go away. Lets figure out the weak points, and redesign.”

This above example shows great confidence in the entire team, puts the consumer first, and inspires everyone to make the product better.

7. Never Use Excuses

Don’t ever make up reasons why the idea or suggestions won’t work.

This is exactly the same as someone saying, “I’d love to help you, but I’m busy.”

You’re the person in charge, you don’t need excuses or reasons why the idea isn’t going to happen.

If you don’t want to go somewhere, don’t go.

Your life may not be where you want it to be, but don’t tell yourself it was caused by other people around you. It wasn’t.

If an Explanation is Necessary

If someone absolutely needs an explanation, because it may help their position, or help them deliver, you can explain it in an email. Let them know, when delivering the no, that you’ll hit them up by email, to go through it in more detail.

You may even need a personal meeting, to get through this particular issue, but it would need to be quick and efficient.

Understand, that it’s still a no, and therefore does not require your personal attention immediately. Simply let them know you’ll get to it. Hopefully they’ll appreciate your time when you get to them.

If someone seems to constantly take issue with your no, maybe they’re not the right fit for your company.

Remember, they are not there to reinvent the wheel, they’re there to move in the directions you choose to go in, and make that easier to achieve.

The No Culture

The absolutely important point here, is that it shouldn’t EVER be an issue for you to say no.

If you can develop a company culture where no is forgotten immediately, and everyone moves on, everything will begin to move faster.

No’s should not be feared, but anticipated easily as part of ANY process, especially one where progress is being made.

You must have the strength of character and faith in your vision, to follow through with your decision, even when that decision goes against the crowd.

In order to change the world, I recommend you move through the resistance, and not be distracted by these things.

Follow your heart, take advice by all means, but when you make a decision, stand by it. If it is your place to make that decision, stand proud that you were able to move forward.

Good luck in your new-found ways to say no.

Email me if you have any suggestions, or have any other ways that I haven’t mentioned. If you have good stories about how these techniques helped you to be more confident, I’d love to hear from you.

Maybe one of these ideas backfired, leave me a comment on here. we can discuss it more.

Either way, I’d love to hear from you.

Speak Soon,


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