Iesha Small

writing, career pivots, side hustles

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How to say no without offending or feeling guilty


Do you find it hard to say ‘no’ at work?  Here are 7 ways to say ‘no’ in a professional setting and still maintain relationships.


“It’s better to have a clear ‘no’ than a half-hearted, coerced or resentful ‘yes’”

Why saying no is difficult

Many people find it hard to say no in personal and professional settings. At times, in certain situations, I’ve found it hard to say no. Saying no can be difficult. Sometimes we don’t want to offend people. Sometimes it’s because power dynamics are involved and we don’t feel we can. Other times we really want to do what has been asked, but other things are preventing us.

How successful people say no

I’ve had this blog sitting in draft for a while, but was reminded of it again when reading Tribe of Mentors by the entrepreneur Tim Ferriss. In the book, he publishes some complete emails from successful people who initially declined to take part. Ironically, he was so impressed with their refusals that he asked if he could include them in the book.  His point was that there are many ways to say ‘no’, and it needn’t be a problem.

Two types of no

No comes into two broad categories.

  • Saying no to things that you don’t want to do
  • Saying no to things you’d love to do but don’t have time or capacity for right now.

Read on for examples that cover both categories to help you in the future.

Clear scripts for no

Below are some ways I’ve been told no, or said no to others, in the past year. All healthy relationships should allow the capacity for either party to say no. Personally I also feel it’s better to have a clear ‘no’ than a half-hearted, coerced or resentful ‘yes’, or for somebody to just go silent for fear of offending. I still have good relationships with all of these people, and the ‘no’ wasn’t a problem on either side.

  1. Had to decline cos I’m drowning in work including reviews and that was the 2nd request in a day. Hope it goes well.
  2. I’m in Madrid – sorry.
  3. Will share. Unfortunately can’t make that date.
  4. Thanks for thinking of and asking me. Sorry but I’m not doing any more speaking or panel events apart from the ones I already have booked until around June, because I need to manage my workload and look after myself. If I think of anybody I’ll let you know.
  5. Sorry but as I said, I have a couple of deadlines right now due to ongoing projects…Thanks for thinking of me though, and I’ll happily write something in the future if possible.
  6. Well done! So pleased for you. I won’t be able to make it but thanks for the invite.
  7. Can’t do it for that [amount] I’m afraid. I’ve a few things I need to focus on and complete for next few months  but if you want to chat about poss future collabs or bounce any ideas around let me know and I’ll take you to lunch/coffee

Final thoughts

Saying no doesn’t have to be a big deal. Sometimes you need to give a reason, other times not. If you are a leader, can your team say no to you? If you are somebody who finds it hard to say no, which of the above could you amend to your situation?

Enjoyed reading this blog post? Subscribe for future ones  you’ll also get a free copy of my ‘9 Lessons for unexpected leaders’ pdf.


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How to say no without offending or feeling guilty