Learn to say No and take back control

Photo by Art Maltsev 

Do you ever find yourself saying ‘Yes’ when you actually want to say ‘No’?


Recognise yourself saying ‘Yes’ in any of these situations?

  • The client or colleague who asks, ‘could you just…’
  • The child demanding your attention when you’re trying to work
  • The social event you don’t really have the time for.


Sometimes saying ‘Yes’ is a natural reaction. When you’re running on autopilot and trying to juggle too many things at once, you don’t take the time to consider the impact of your decisions. When we delve a little deeper, it’s easy to spot patterns around the reasons we say ‘Yes’ when we don’t mean to.


  • Fear of losing a client or losing credibility at work
  • Guilt around letting down your child, relative or friend
  • A sense of obligation or simply wanting to please other people.



When you realise the implications of what you’ve agreed to, you feel overwhelmed and frustrated. That time you’d set aside for some me-time? It’s not going to happen. Exercise, hobbies, meeting friends and family activities take a back seat.



Time to take the power back


I meet a lot of clients who struggle to make time for themselves. They come to me for coaching to find a way to make this a priority in their life. Learning to say ‘No’ to requests is an important step to taking back control and finding a better work/life balance. Saying ‘No’ is all about setting boundaries.


How much is your personal time worth? Most of us find it easy to put a figure on one hour of work time – an hourly rate or a proportion of our salary. There’s no financial reward in an hour of me-time, but the benefits of this can be immense: physical fitness, building friendships, creating family memories and improved mental health to name a few.


When you consider the idea of valuing your time, saying No’ becomes a whole lot easier.


How to say ‘No’


1. Pause

Listen to the request and create space in your mind to consider it. You don’t have to respond immediately. It’s perfectly OK to ask for time and check your diary and your To-do list.


2. Reflect

If you say ‘Yes’, what else will you have to say ‘No’ to? Is it a priority? Consider the value of your time and the impact of your decision on yourself and others.


3. Respond

Take a breath and give your response. You don’t have to explain your reasons for saying ‘No’, but do if you feel it’s necessary. Most people will respect your decision.


What can happen when you start saying ‘No’


A senior leader asked me for help having spotted a pattern of activity leading to her continuously taking on extra workload. Colleagues would come to her late in the day and ask her ‘could you just…’ She felt obliged to agree, which led to her working late and missing out on time with her children.


We discussed how she could set some boundaries to allow her to leave the office on time and get home to her family. She implemented a ‘no meetings after 3pm’ rule. This gave her enough time to get through her workload and actually made her more productive. Her team noticed the example and everyone began to leave on time. A win-win situation for everyone’s work life balance!


The impact of saying ‘No’ can be profound. This client felt liberated, relieved and more productive. Others feel more grounded and connected with themselves – like a weight has been lifted. When you prioritise the things you’re invested in, the feeling of accomplishment is always greater. Taking back control is incredibly empowering.


Make ‘No’ a habit


Like any new habit, you need to practise saying ‘No’ for it to become second nature. As you do this, you’ll begin to trust your own judgement and become more confident in the choices you make.


When ‘No’ becomes a positive word in your vocabulary other areas of your life will shine. Try it and see what difference it makes for you.