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  • Writer's pictureMaria Varallo

How to say no well and skilfully

We all like to be asked for our opinion or to be nominated as the one who ‘knows’ has the knowledge or experience – the go to person. Of course, it's great if others think of us as knowledgeable and capable.


However, it can also be annoying if you’re continually being asked or put forward either in the workplace, volunteering or socially. You’ll probably start to feel resentful because it can be a burden, a time stealer, and it’s disruptive. Being helpful and not wanting to say ‘no’ is so generous but it’s tiring and frustrating.

Here’s some practical tips


Try saying ....


“Let me think about that and I will get back to you by _______ with a decision.”

Do get back to them by your deadline, remember you are trustworthy and reliable. Now you have time to think, what do you honestly want to do? What are the benefits if you go through with it?


If you get put on the spot and need to answer immediately, first take a second and ask for clarification and check your understanding. This ensures you've heard correctly and gives you a couple of seconds thinking time. Your responses could be ....


“If I’ve heard you correctly John, you would like me to produce The Very Important Report by 9 a.m. tomorrow, instead of next week. Is that right?”


Now maybe you do actually want to do it, it could be an opportunity for you or is it just another thing to do, adds to your stress and clearly an unreasonable deadline?


If you have some kind of career plan it will inform your decision and you'll know immediately if it's a good opportunity. Taking on extra work sometimes can be a positive. Building your skills and experience, getting your name on a key document or getting your name infront of key people. Or maybe it’s just good to build points in the favour bank of the person who has asked – think strategically.


However, if you do not want to do it try saying ...


“I understand, however I’m not the right person to ask, I would not be able to meet the deadline/I have no knowledge/not my subject. So, thanks for asking, I’m going to decline.”


“Ok I’m not going to be able to complete this by the deadline, however, ask me about ___________________ anything in my area and I’m your woman. Thanks anyway for asking.”


Importantly, remember your gestures and body language. We often forget that the frustration shows in our non-verbal leakage (clenched fists, biting nails, hunched shoulders or gritted teeth) and our voice. If you’re on the phone or in a call be mindful of your voice and upper body, it can help to stand up and walk about if you on the phone, it allows more air to the lungs which affects your voice.


If you feel guilty for saying no, remember every time you say no, it’s a yes to you, cheesy but true. It gives you the time to do what you want to do. It really helps minimise the guilt if you’re clear on your priorities and your values. Your values also create your boundaries and gives insight into your expectations of others and yourself.


Saying no is freeing, assertive and shows you have priorities.


It allows you to commit and follow through on what you want and need to do. Others will respect you for it as they know where they are with you, you build a reputation and are trustworthy.




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