Learn to say no to the good so you can say yes to the best - John Maxwell.

If you’re looking at an overwhelming “to do” list and trying to pack everything into your life, you’re not alone. Many entrepreneurs resist saying no to requests from customers, suppliers, family, friends or staff. Not wanting to disappoint anyone, the business owner sacrifices physical and mental health in the reckless pursuit of “yes”. You want to say, “no”, but you don’t want to be an asshole about it.

It is okay to say “no”. In fact, it is essential that you say no to many good ideas so you can say “yes” to great ones. Saying “no” frees up time and space to not only say “yes”, but also to take action and reap results from the essential few things in life that really matter.

Whether you’re reading these tips from a business, professional or personal perspective, they work across the board. In a family business, I find saying “no” is critical to maintaining my sanity and developing others to take on responsibilities in the family or the business.

How do you tactfully say no?

  1. Start re-training the team (family or staff) around you. Call a 5 minute huddle meeting with employees or family and announce that you need to reduce the number of tasks you are taking on in a support role and briefly explain why. Use “I” messages. “I’ve allowed myself to take on tasks here. Although I’ve enjoyed helping out, it’s no longer possible for me to do so.”
  2. Be thankful and decline. If you are asked to participate in a committee or a project that is not critical to your goals, be gracious. Thank the person for the invitation, but your “plate is full”. Finish with, “Please keep me in mind next time an opportunity comes along.” You might also add, “hope the project goes well.”
  3. Negotiate “no” or resources to say “yes”. Sometimes you can negotiate the deadline or the scope of the request to make it more manageable for you to say “yes”. If your boss is asking, you might consider outlining the projects you are working on and ask him /her to give you some guidelines on what to take off your plate so you can add this task to it. Enlist your supervisor’s help in choosing priority work.
  4. Decide what you can say yes to. You might not be able to grant the request, but perhaps there is a way you can contribute. Be clear and firm in your boundaries. This strategy still allows you to be involved on your terms.
  5. Avoid giving excuses. Saying “I’m so sorry, but I can’t” is all that is needed. If the other person probes for reasons, just repeat yourself and add, “I hope the project goes well.” or politely add, “thanks for thinking of me.” Be sympathetic yet firm. When you give excuses, you give the individual an opportunity to solve it for you
  6. Deflect – When you are asked for a favour, you might want to deflect the request with your “no” to someone else. “Sorry, I’m not able to do this for you, but you might want to check with so and so.”
Leveraging Your Success