Less Yessy More Sassy: The Art of Saying No (and Yes)

We've all been in that situation before: the ageing neighbour who wants you to stay for one more cup of tea, the painful friend that asks you to help her move at the last minute, the strange business idea from Doug that "just needs a little cash". Saying 'No' should be simple, but for a variety of reasons - trust, friendship, power dynamics, or a simple desire to please -  it can seem easier to say yes instead.

Before I continue, it's time for some real talk. I am writing this blog at 11pm on Tuesday night. I have a cold and I am stressed because I need to get a bunch of stuff done before I go away for three weeks holiday. I am writing this blog post now partly because of my inability to say no. And apparently I’m not alone. 10 other humans on the internet feel the same. And you, of course. 

So I talk to you, oh equally flawed human not, as some sort of Goddess of Saying No, but more as someone who aspires to do it on the reg. Let’s make a pact right now to say no more often! The pact of Less Yessy, More Sassy.  

That is us embracing our ability to say no. Look how great we are. 

That is us embracing our ability to say no. Look how great we are. 

Establish what you stand for (and protect it)
If your startup’s brand is about authentic relationships, you aren’t going to want to buy a database to increase your mailing list potential. And if you personally find fast fashion abhorrent, you aren't going to want to lend your friend a cool $1K to help set up a t-shirt brand being made in some nameless far-off land. Knowing what you and/or your business stands for allows you to push back with conviction and authority when decisions are tricky, or lines are being crossed.

Value your time, for it is precious
My mum instilled in me from an early age that money is all well and good, but time is the only resource that you can't get any more of. Once it is gone, it is gone. While she was teaching me this because we were really poor and I wanted a Barbie but instead got the gift of time, it's a concept that we all need to hold onto. Really understanding how much spare time you have, and valuing it, allows you to make empowered decisions about how you choose to use it. The result? Again, you can make clearer decisions and push back on things that eat into that precious time of yours. Cheers Mum!

Pre-empt as much as you can  
Sometimes you can see things coming, so instead of waiting for them to happen, why not pre-empt it? This sort of clever trickery means that you do not even have to say no, because you have cut that awkward conversation off at the start - woot! Time poor this week? Go into your weekly WIP and say that from the get go! Know your friend is moving and sense the question is coming? Let them know your plans beforehand.

Don’t just say no, problem solve
Whilst you may not be prepared to hand over your customer insights to a friend, you can try a reply like “We can't do that, but I have chucked in a few notes below on how we gathered this information”. People ask you for things because they have a need, and while you may not be able to fill that for them, you can help guide them in the right direction. This might mean sharing a process, having a quick chat about their thinking, or introducing them to someone who can (and would like to) say yes.

Don’t be a dick
Yes you should practice your 'no', but saying no does not give you permission to be unkind. Always be polite, to the point, and clear about your 'no'. 

Identify why you want to say no. Is it possible you actually need to say yes?
Situations aren’t cut and dry, and sometimes things on paper look like you should say no but after a little more consideration, you may realise it should be a yes. Example: life is hectic, it is crazy at work, and you have a friend asking you to look over a pitch deck.

Slow.Down.And.Assess.The.Situation.

Think about what has been asked of you, think about the impact on your time and space, but also think about the impact it will have on the other person. Sure, it may stack up that you are indeed time poor and under the pump - but this other thing may be important too. If your boss has come to you with a request and you know it’s important, maybe you can re-prioritise, delegate or extend deadlines. Maybe it is a yes after all.


Anya works from BizDojo Auckland and aspires to be someone that says no slightly more, although she likes saying yes to cake. Follow her on Twitter here.