One of the first words we learn is “NO” – a very powerful word that unfortunately we tend to forget as we grow up. Some people might learn it once again when they become parents as this is one of the first words we say to the kids. In general, however, we use it less and less as we grow up. There seems to be some differences across geographies and cultures, but overall as we grow we become faster in saying “yes” and we tend to reduce the “no” occasions. “Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough” - Josh Billings. Generalizing, American and Germans tend to be the most frank and direct in showing a disagreement while Asian tend to be most reticent to using the word “no” and Italians tend to be indirect. Lots of generalization but the point is that, over time, we learn to please people and say “yes” instead of “no”. What we don’t realize is that via saying “yes” to something or someone, at the same time, we say “no” to something else. Conversely via saying “no” we can create new opportunities “What you don’t do determines what you can do” - Tim Ferriss.

Saying “yes” might mean spending time on things that are not relevant and meaningful or in other words we might waste time! Hence just saying “no” might actually help us saving time. “Say no to everything, so you can say yes to the one thing” ― Richie Norton. We could change our life and give it more meaning via spending time on things and with people that are more meaningful to us… we just need to say “no” and simplify our life!


“...there are often many things we feel we should do that, in fact, we don't really have to do. Getting to the point where we can tell the difference is a major milestone in the simplification process” ― Elaine St. James.


The challenge consists into learning how to say “no”. “It takes effort to say no when our heart and brains and guts and, most important, pride are yearning to say yes. Practice” ― Cole Harmonson. We grow up with the conviction that a “yes” is more polite and helpful than a “no” and changing mindset at a later stage is not that easy. “A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble” - Mahatma Gandhi. So how do we change and start saying “no”? We follow a five steps approach:


The five steps approach to say “no”

1.       Till when we don’t realize that “When you say no to the wrong people, it opens up the space for the right people to come in.” ― Joe Calloway we will not take any action. Hence the first step consists into acknowledging that a “no” might be more helpful to us than a “yes”.

2.       Once we accept this, then we can move to the next step: learning how to say “no”. As mentioned before, every culture has its own way to manage and accept disagreement and depending on where you are and with whom you interact, you might use a different message in order to get your “no” through without hampering relationships. If in doubt try to look at the situation from the other person’s cultural perspective and just say “no” with your heart and explain the reason why you are saying so. This is exactly the same way as parents do with their children. In this way you might find a common ground and create win-win situation for both parties.

3.       The third step is about managing the instinctive reaction – we are generally very fast in saying “yes” and sometimes we need to go back and make corrections to address our original decision. “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no’” - Tom Friel. Take your time to answer and think whether that “yes” is worth your commitment and especially your time.

4.       Stick to your decision! Not everyone can accept a “no” hence people might try to convince you otherwise after your first reaction. If you do really believe on your “no” than hold onto that and don’t change your mind just because the other party insists. “Once you have made up your mind, stick to it; there is no longer any 'if' or 'but'” - Napoleon Bonaparte. They might convince you that saying “yes” is not really a big burden for you but this is not true. The “yes” accumulates very easily and before you realize your day will be full of many little things that don’t make you happy.

5.       There is also a fifth step which actually might be the first one. This is about understanding what your priorities are hence be prepared to answer with an appropriate “yes” or “no”. Instead having to reflect and improvise on the spot (which might always happen) it is better to have a crystal clear idea of what matters the most in your life. “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically – to say “no” to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger yes burning inside.” – Stephen Covey. Make a list of what are the most important things and people in your life but also start building an “ignore list”. The “ignore list” is actually your starting point as it will make it easier to say “no” to certain things. “Information overload (on all levels) is exactly WHY you need an "ignore list". It has never been more important to be able to say "No” ― Mani S. Sivasubramanian


If you start following the above process you’ll realize that you can actually have more time to dedicate to what matters the most to you. It is about being selective, a bit selfish and filling the life jar with the biggest stones first …“When you say YES to others, make sure you are not saying NO to yourself” – Paulo Coelho. The day is still made of 24 hours and about one third is (or should be) spent sleeping which means only 16 hours are left for you to accomplish what you want. Start from defining the first “no” you will say today and use the spare time to celebrate this achievement – this will trigger some motivation and help you doing more frequently. Watch-out though at not becoming the “no” man/woman but rather focus the “no” on the non meaningful and relevant matters.

Remarkably this is valid also in business – the same challenges and the same process can be followed in the business environment. “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes” - Tony Blair. Sometimes a “yes” instead of a “no” could hinder the magnitude of success no matter how we define it. “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything” - Warren Buffet. In fact, success is about focus and saying no is at the forefront of it. “Focusing is about saying no” - Steve Jobs.

By the way, once you learn the art of saying “no” you can then move to the next phase: the art of delegating (see our post Delegate Meaning and Techniques) … now … just say NO and save TIME!



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