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When I am running Personal Effectiveness Courses and Assertiveness Workshops, what often comes up is how often we struggle to say no to other people’s requests. Inside your head you are saying “no, no, no…” and yet what comes out of our mouth is….. “yes, I’d be delighted to help!”.

Yet you know you can never be truly productive and move towards your personal and professional goals if you take on too many commitments – you run the risk of spreading yourself too thin, will not be able to get everything done to the standard you would like or on time. This is all very well in theory but requests for your time and attention are coming in all the time – through phone, email, IM, Facebook or in person.

To stay productive and minimise stress you have to Keep Calm and Say No.

So what is so hard about saying no?

We may be worried we will hurt, anger or disappoint the person we’re saying “no” to. Alternatively, we may disappoint ourselves because we believe we should be able to be ‘super woman’ or ‘wonder mum who works’. Finally, we may worry that if we hope to work with that person in the future and want to continue to have a good relationship with them saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardise that.

Kay White in her fantastic book The A to Z of Being Understood is extremely helpful in ‘saying no’ and states that firstly you have to get in the right mindset.

The 4 Key Mindset pieces to have clear:

1. Just because you’re asked a question, it doesn’t mean to say you have to answer it! You can ask another question first—find out more information before you commit yourself and buy yourself that precious time. Asking for more information is seen positively by the requester because you are showing genuine interest.

2. You’re committed to responding and to being seen to respond and you’re committed to your own priorities too. One doesn’t have to cancel out the other. If you don’t value your time by saying no, how can you expect others to.

3. You’re successful and engaged in your work— such people aren’t usually sitting waiting to say “yes” to every request. Being too available and all ready to respond isn’t always a good perception to give. Your Doctor/Dentist/Hairdresser is busy with clients—you book in for time with them.

4. You owe it to all the people who follow your fortunes, who rely on your success, to stick to your priorities; your family, your team, your clients and customers. How can you support and serve them if other people’s urgencies keep becoming your emergencies?

A technique that I find helpful is the 3 Line Defence strategy
1. The Reason
2. So
3. Alternative choice or option

1. The Reason: Give a genuine reason why you are unable to do what is being requested of you. For example: “I have 3 reports that I have committed to complete by the end of today”.
2. Then use the ‘so’ – i.e.: “So I am unable to complete that for you today”
3. Follow next with an alternative choice or option if you have one – i.e.: “who else could you ask?” or “I could possibly complete that for you by end of business tomorrow.”

The reason I believe that it works so well is because by giving the reason first the requester works out in their own mind for themselves that you are unable to help them as they would like. Also, you are not being falsely positive and then negative to their request by using the dreaded ‘but’ word. In addition, delaying being able to help them i.e. ‘I may have some time next week’, usually means they will go and find someone else or even better do it themselves because they were hoping you were going to be a quick win.

I could share so much more but promised to keep this short, so if you would like to know more about the art of saying no, assertiveness or personal effectiveness courses and coaching please contact me at

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