How to say “no” to everything ever.


“I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.”
–Steve Jobs

It’s been said that one of the secrets to Steve Jobs’ success was to “say no to 1,000 things.”

You’ll find this theme percolating throughout the biographies of myriad heroes & mentors. Highly-productive & satisfied people say “no” to non-essential projects, tasks, requests & opportunities — and they say it so well.

We all know that we need to say “no,” about 1,000 times more than we say “yes.” But we don’t. And we pay the price, with over-cluttered calendars, over-saturated psyches, and over-clenched shoulders that never quite sink away from our earlobes.

There are plenty of things that stop us from saying “no.” Not having the right language to do it … shouldn’t be one of them.

Today, I’m offering a sane & humane structure for your very next “no.” And while there’s no lab-tested formula for a “Perfect No”, the script I’m about to share is pretty darn close. Use it often, and with love.

5 steps to scripting a “Perfect No.”

1. Open with gratitude.

You can’t go wrong with gratitude & appreciation. Ever.

“Deep thanks for writing.”

“I’m touched by your note.”

“I always love hearing from you — thank you for swinging back into my world.”

2. Acknowledge their courage.

It takes balls (or ovaries, depending on your perspective) to ask for something you desperately need (or even just kinda-sorta want.) Reflect back that you get it.

“I can see how much this project means to you, and I’m touched by your determination & drive.”

“Asking for something you want (and need) can be tough. I’m moved by your clear, honest request.”

“I know what it takes to reach out to someone you don’t know, and ask for support. I love your initiative-seizing chutzpah!”

3. Tell them “no.”

This point is non-negotiable. Be clear. Avoid wibbly-wobbly words like “maybe…” and “someday” and “if only…”

“My answer is no.”

“This feels like a no.”

“I love you, but no.”

“That’s not a commitment I can make. I’ve got to say no.”

“You are a spectacular human being. Which makes it (really) hard to say no. But … no.”

4. Tell them why.

There are circumstances in which explaining why you’re saying no is cruel, or even unethical. But most of the time, it can help put their mind at ease. It’s the humane thing to do.

“My calendar is pleasantly full — and I’m striving to keep it from getting (un)pleasantly full. Thank you for understanding.”

“I’ve made a strong commitment to take care of my health this year. Which means saying ‘no’ more than I’d like — but as much as I need.”

“I’ve got several time- and energy-intensive projects on the horizon. I’m clearing the deck to make sure I can hit my deadlines. Without resorting to drugs. Or Doritos.”

“I’m trying an experiment in radical un-busy-ness. It involves saying ‘no’ a lot more than usual, to clear space for big & magnificent yes’s. (Want to do it with me?)”

5. Close with generosity.

Offer an alternative form of support (one that doesn’t trigger resentment, for you). Point them to unexpected resources. Send a blessing, or a piece of helpful advice.

“If you’re open to having me support you in a different way, I’d be more than willing to … ”

“I think you’ll really dig this free round-up of resources … ”

“These folks might be able to help you, sooner (and better) than me … ”

“I’m rooting for you — and I’ll be tweeting for you, too.”
And that’s it. No sweat.

Tell me: what’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to say “no” to?

What do you think might happen, if you said “no” 10 times more than usual, this week?




Saying no to my family on spending my vacations with them was challenging. I live in a different part of the country than most of my family, and, since I can remember, when they have wanted to see me they have always expected me to come to them, even to the point where they would pay my way. My daughter asked me, one year, if maybe we could have some quality mother/daughter time that didn’t include traveling to visit my family. I chose to say no to the family, and Jess and I went to a place she had always dreamed of going. It was a tough no, but an amazing trip and a good choice.

Betsy McDowell on Feb 4, 2013 Reply

This is incredibly helpful actually. I always hate having to say no to my mom if she asks me to do something that I just can’t swing. She’s my mom after all and I love her.

If I said no more I would undoubtedly have more time and energy for my own creative projects. Something I definitely need.

Ahhh, you are so freakishly brilliant with the simplicity of these powerful NO lines…in terms of what’s the hardest thing I’ve had to say no to? Right now it’s almost everything so I can focus on my great big thing in the fall (Master Brand)…I’ve lost sleep, missed calls/emails, and been a recluse with popcorn and coffee since December. I’ve tried not to have the guilt trip that comes along with that but it does creep in. I’ve never been a boundaries person and I noticed the minute I put some up, there was a huge sigh of relief, with a corresponding bitch slap of guilt for having to say no and hunker down. I know that in the grand scheme of things this is all how it has to be, but I’m still working through it. xo

Woman! This guide to saying no makes me want to yell yes YES! Thanks for sharing your brilliance x

As one who is *terrible* at saying no, I’m keeping this in my back pocket:

Beautiful. Clear. Love-infused. Thank you for this!

The hardest thing I said no to was when I told my agent (whose life was falling apart due to family problems) that I didn’t want to re-sign with her. I needed more attention to my career than she could give at the moment, and quite frankly, she needed to focus on herself.

It was hard, but I feel so much better!

You’re bookmarked to my browser’s bar—that’s how much I love you.

I needed to read this. I knew it all in my heart, but I just needed to read it from someone like you, Franz. I get PR emails asking to pop up information for places I’ve never been to, which is just a tricky balancing act when it comes to the world of blogging. Before I would just do it – but I began feeling icky about it and dishonest. I only want to endorse/promote places I’ve personally experienced. So I just started deleting the PR messages I received and couldn’t use. :/ I think a “no” email needs to be the next step. Thank you.

Oh, this is a fabulous post. I rarely have a hard time saying no, but I do struggle with saying it gracefully and working in how grateful I am to have been asked. .

This article is awesomesauce – especially since setting boundaries is something I’m covering right now with the folks in my “Promoting Yourself for Introverts” programme. I’ll totally be directing them here!

A question for you: I’m getting better and better at saying “no” to other people, but I still tend to suck at saying it to myself. I seem to be able to persuade myself to act against my own best interests way too easily.

Any words of wisdom?

TANJA :: The next time you want to say NO, but find yourself waffling, ask yourself, “If my best friend asked me for advice on this situation, would I encourage her to say YES or NO? And if she felt bad about saying NO, what would I tell her?”

Then … know that whatever advice you’d give to your beautiful friend applies doubly to YOU. :)

Alexandra Franzen on Feb 24, 2013 Reply

I am so glad I discovered this awesome blog. I need to print this out and keep it in my pocket.

I just totally used this! And it felt awesome! Thank you for the excellent resource Alexandra!

Wow! Your website captivated me! Then, I went off on a delicious tangent into your client’s websites. Now, I am trying to find my own path to a more fulfilling and exciting future.
Thanks! Your are inspiring!

Ryder on Apr 8, 2013 Reply

1. I used to be a pole vaulter. I sucked at it, but still won things because nobody else was doing it at the time. Saying to to stuff like that. Can do. Suck slightly less than others. Not brilliant. Should stop.
2. Ha! The Muse will come to my bedside and I won’t have that ‘I’m too tired to f*ck you’ excuse any more…

brilliant thank you… I said no less gracefully than this a couple of days ago and this path to follow next time has helped me clear up the ick associated with saying no … I had no practise in the first 48 years of my life so having pointers is GOOD!

JANE on Jul 1, 2013 Reply

Thanks for this wonderful post Alexandra. I got to try this one. I’m wondering what will happen if I say ‘No’ 10x more this week. lol :D
You might as well check this, I’ve got here a book about Learn How to Say ‘No’. I also got a lot of information here >> .

I love this!! As women, “No” can feel like a forbidden and uncomfortable word. What I like to do as a former people-pleaser, is to remind myself that with every NO, there is a YES, and vice versa. So I ask myself what I want to say YES to. Then it turns the No into a support for my YES. Whenever I feel uncertain, I also say, “I need to sit with this request for a bit. Let me get back to you.” Buying more time helps me to clarify where my energies need to go. Great idea for a blog, No? : )

I love this too. I sometimes find myself saying “maybe” or “I’ll try” when I should really be saying no (with kindness & gratitude)! Being wishy washy and noncommittal doesn’t help the other person much, plus it leaves me feeling guilty because deep down I know I what I was supposed to say… Thanks for the reminder. :)

Saying no to my manager when he requested that I work a lot of overtime at work

eric on Jun 25, 2014 Reply

I love love love this and love to say a good ‘no’. Saying ‘no’, with love, realising that by saying no to someone – a parent, a partner, an ex or a friend, doesn’t mean you don’t love them, care for them or empathise with them. Realising that ‘no’ and loving someone don’t need to be collapsed into one-another but can be two things, said simultaneously with heart and authenticity… this was a big fat juicy distinction/realisation I got a couple of years ago… on such a deep level that it transformed life the moment that penny dropped. To know that you can love someone and say no to them at the same time – as one does not cancel out another… this for me was and still is very empowering and liberating when it comes to communication. :) This is my personal experience. I love your writing Alex! Thankyou for being so real and sharing this with us. :)

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