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You Can Say No Without Being a Jerk

I realized a few years ago that one of the keys to effective leadership is learning to say no.

It’s difficult, because when you’re starting out (like I did 17 years ago) with almost no people, no money and lots of time on your hands, you end up saying yes to just about anything to get something started.

When you got nothing … you jump at anything that comes your way. (I’m not recommending that as a strategy … I’m just saying that’s how it begins for many of us.)

But eventually, your opportunities exceed the time available to fill them. So you work more hours. Get more efficient. Learn some time management.

But then you hit another wall. And you realize:

I will never be efficient enough to handle it all.

Some of the things (OK, maybe a lot of things) I’m saying yes to are counter-productive.

Yes to everything means no to the most important things

If I keep working this hard, I will burn out before 40. (I defied the odds and burned out at 41).

No becomes your friend. I’ve posted about that before.

But how do you learn to say no without being rude?

If you don’t master that skill, you will never manage your priorities well, or you might just become a bit of jerk in trying to do that. That’s the issue I want us to zero in on.

I’m going to walk you through a strategy I’ve used  to deliver a “no” that makes people still feel (we hope) valued. It works whether you have an assistant or not (I do). It combines both the type of words you use (tone) in all conversation and some practical steps to help people get what they want without getting you involved.

Step One: Say you’d love to meet.

Try starting the conversation or email with something like, I’d love to meet with you or, That’s an interesting idea! Thanks for sharing it with me.

I would hope these statements are true (and it’s almost always true in my case … I want to meet with far more people than I can). It lets people know you care about them.

And you began the conversation with a yes. Not a no.

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Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.