How to say no – plus 10 templates to help you

how-to-say-no

How many times have you reluctantly said yes to something and instantly felt burdened? 

I’m sure it’s too many to count. The more in demand you become the more often you’ll find yourself saying ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’. 

Learning to say no is an ultra-effective life hack. As Derek Sivers puts it, if it’s not a hell yeah then it’s a no. Saying no is uncomfortable and requires practice.

It’s important to give yourself permission to say no. This will be a pathway to questioning many other decisions you make. To decline something requires you to think about the opportunity cost, the payoff, and your broader values.

Why do we say yes so often?

We say yes for many reasons. They usually include:

Not valuing your own time: When we don’t value our time we don’t understand how costly it can be to say yes. There’s always an opportunity cost involved. Whenever we agree to one thing we are foregoing something else. 

Naval explains how to deal with this very eloquently. He suggests setting a high hourly rate for your time. He originally set this at $5,000.

 If your time was worth $5,000 would you really waste it gaming for hours every night with your buddies? Or go shopping because your friend is bored? Probably not. 

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have fun. You absolutely should. It’s to ensure you’re doing the things that truly make you happy and move the needle the most.

Seeking approval: We agree to requests because we simply want people to like us. We fear that we’ll be judged for saying no. As you can imagine this isn’t always the case. People often care about themselves more than they care about others. 

Unclear of your personal values: This may seem similar to not valuing your time, however, it’s not. Your personal values relate to the things you find most important in life. This is often family, meaningful relationships, health, and entrepreneurship. 

When you’re aware of your personal values it becomes immediately clear which activities you should be spending your time on. It also helps navigate who you’ll do this with.

Fear of missing out (FOMO): This is an obvious one. It’s annoying and it can be hard to avoid. If we value our time and we have guiding principles it should make it easier to justify why something is worth missing out on. 

The more focussed we become, the less we care about what’s happening around us. An easy way to help is to reduce social media use. If we can’t see all the so-called amazing things happening around us we can’t be influenced by it.

Three ways to know if you’re saying yes too often:

You’re always busy: Take a look at all the things you need to do this week. How much free time is there? How much of it is essential? If you find yourself always busy with things you don’t particularly care about or enjoy you’re saying yes too often.

You dread doing the things you agree to do: When the event or task rolls around it can feel like such a drag. You really don’t want to do the thing you said yes to.

If you think about your plans for the week and your answers start with “I have to…” then you’re saying yes too often. Common ones you hear all the time:

  • I have to go to {event} for a cause I don’t care about,
  • I have to finish {pointless tasks} for {someone who isn’t my boss and I don’t even like}, and
  • I have to help {friend/colleague/relative} whom I haven’t seen in {months/years}.

You find it difficult to say no: Ask yourself “When was the last time I said no?”.

Can you remember?

How did it feel?

If you can’t remember the last time you’ve said no and you dread your commitments you should learn to say no. Practicing stoicism is a great way to become more comfortable saying no.

Why saying no is key to building a successful business 

In the context of building profitable businesses with a full-time job saying no is especially important. There is no time to be wasted on things you don’t truly enjoy or that drive you closer to your business. 

It requires a set schedule outside of your 9-5 to spend thinking and executing your ideas. This time needs to be safeguarded. An easy way to prevent people from asking for things includes scheduling block-out periods before and after work hours. 

Your colleagues know you won’t be able to attend to them at those times. They’re actually expecting you to say no when they see your calendar is busy. And to everyone else you don’t work with you can simply just say you start and finish work late. 

If you’re worried this won’t be taken seriously, make it sporadic. One day you can have a block-out period from 6:10am – 9:15am and another day it can be 7:00am – 9:00am and so on. This will give the illusion you have various tasks and you’re not lying.

10 templates to help you say no 

Pat Walls from Starter Story has collated a list of templates for saying no. These are from the likes of Naval Ravinkant and Paul Graham. We’ve handpicked the best ones and added some of our own 👇

How to say no to a meeting:

​​Hey {{ first_name }},

Just want to be upfront.

I don’t do non-transactional meetings. I don’t do meetings without a strict agenda. I don’t do meetings unless we absolutely have to.

Naval

How to say no to an event invitation:

Hey {{ first_name }},

Thanks so much for the invite! I really appreciate you thinking of me.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it to [Event] on [date]. But thanks again for sending an invitation my way.

Hopefully, we can get together another time.

Cheers,

Pat Walls

How to say no to a meeting:

Hi {{ first_name }},,

Thanks for sending that meeting invite.

Unfortunately, I’m not able to attend because of prior scheduling—but please keep me updated with action items I may be able to help with.

You can feel free to send those notes over after the meeting, though I won’t be available right away.

Best,

Pat Walls

How to say no to a recruiter

Hey {{ first_name }},

Thanks for getting in touch!

I appreciate you reaching out about [POSITION]. But, I’m not currently looking to explore other opportunities.

Wishing you the best in finding the right candidate!

Best,

Pat Walls

How to say no to doing a customers job for them

Hi {{ first_name }},

I prepared a document for you that will walk you through the steps to do X. You can get this done in no time 🙂

However, if you do face any difficulties, please let me know. We can get on a call and I can guide you step by step.

Regards,

Luc

How to say no to a new project at work

Hi {{ first_name}}

Hope you’re well.

Appreciate you reaching out, this looks pretty interesting.

However, I have other projects to deliver which have already been prioritized. I’ll add this to the backlog but to manage your expectations I won’t be able to work on it any time soon. It might be best to try to find someone else who has the capacity.

Kind regards

Luc

How to say no after you’ve already agreed to something

Hi {{ first_name }},

I know that I offered to take on this project 2 months ago but things have changed since then and I feel I may not have the time to give your project my 100%. My sincere apologies for this.

I don’t want to leave you hanging, so I can recommend a few people who have the skills to handle your project.

I can also offer [INSERT CONSOLATION].

If you have questions or concerns, I’m free and willing to listen.

Pat

How to politely say no to a date

Hey {{ first_name }}!

I hope you had a great weekend.

I had a nice time the other night and I think you’re a really great person, but I just don’t think we’re a good match. 

Good luck out there, I hope you find what you’re looking for.

How to say no to a friend asking for business help

Hi {{ first_name }},

I love hearing how you are getting on with [insert topic of request here], thank you so much for taking the time to update me, especially as I know how busy you are right now.

I am going to have to say no to [insert topic of request here] on this occasion because I don’t have any capacity for free work at the moment / I’m not the right person to help you with this / I love our friendship too much to mix it up with business.

I am so proud to see you pushing the limits of [insert topic of request here] and striving even harder to do something that means so much to you. I feel like we haven’t seen each other properly for ages.

Let’s get together soon so that we can not talk about work together.

Best,

Emmy McCarthy

How to say no to customers requesting discounts

Hi {{ first_name }}

Thanks for reaching out and I’m glad you love our product!

Unfortunately, we don’t offer discounts unless otherwise stated on our site for a specific promotion. We truly value our products and customers. It would be unfair of us to do this.

Hope you understand. If there’s anything else I can help you with please let me know 🙂 

Kind regards

Luc


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