Never Saying No is Rude!

I work with and talk to a lot of people who have trouble saying no. It is easily in the top five skills I discuss. And I’ve noticed something – people who don’t want to say no will either say yes when they shouldn’t or ignore a request. I would like to reframe how we think about saying no.

You say yes when you know you should say no.

We feel it in the pit of our stomach. We know we need to say no. And yet something (guilt? fear? it will be fun?) makes us say yes. We aren’t happy about it. We know we are going to be stressed trying to do it and we most likely won’t be able to do our best work. Is that fair to you? No. But look at it from the requester’s perspective. Do you think they really want someone who is only half in? Or who they are going to have to nag to get things done? Or who ends up slap-dashing things together at the last minute? Or who bails out later? The kindest and easiest time to say no is now. Right at the start, before expectations are created and you are sucked into something you know you don’t want.

You say yes and realize after that fact you should have said no.

I had this happen to me just last week. I accepted an early morning meeting downtown. I was looking forward to seeing the person and even though I usually don’t accept early, on location meetings, I made an exception. Two days later while driving in rush hour traffic I realized it wasn’t going to work. I sucked up the fact that I had made a mistake, called the person, explained my situation and suggested a different time. She was very gracious in accepting my honest “it doesn’t work for me”. If you find you’ve committed to something you simply can’t do, own it. People are much more forgiving when you are authentic right away then if you pretend things are okay when they’re not.

You say nothing.

This one makes me the craziest of them all. It looks like this: You send an email asking a question (scheduling, to do, information, etc). A couple of days go by and there is no response. You wonder if your email is in their spam folder so you call and have to leave a message. Still nothing. If you know them well you send a text and get something like, “Saw your messages. Been busy.” At that point you can either become a complete nag or you can accept that you aren’t going to get an answer and a non-answer means no.

Ignoring a request is not only conflict avoidant; it is passive-aggressive and hurtful. We think we are avoiding hurting someone. But really we are just dragging out an uncomfortable situation. What if we collectively decided to say something like, “It makes me uncomfortable to say no and there is a part of my that wants to ignore this and hope it goes away. I know that isn’t fair to you and I want to respect your time by giving you a straight answer…” Remember – you don’t have to make an excuse (I have too many priorities, I am too busy) or lie (I committed to something else). You can honestly, truly and simply say “no, thank you for asking”.

Too many of us wear never-saying-no as a badge of honor to how busy and in demand we are. What if we started looking at it for what it is? Rude and, more importantly, dishonest and unfair to ourselves.

Do you have an email to send or a phone call to make saying no this holiday season?

As always, I wish you the most from your potential!

Doc Robyn

PS - I believe the space between people, how we talk to one another and how we deal with disagreement is where the fine line between success and failure is drawn. If you want to make sure you are on the success side of that line, let's schedule time to talk and see if I'm the right person to help you.

Dr. Robyn Odegaard (aka “Doc Robyn”) is internationally known motivational speaker, executive coach and corporate trainer. As CEO of Champion Performance Development, she works with executives, professionals, athletes, and coaches to help them achieve excellence by sharing active leadership, powerful teamwork, conscious communication, Productive Conflict™ and professional disagreement skills. She is the founder of the Stop The Drama! Campaign and author of the books Stop The Drama! The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams and The Ultimate Guide to Handling Every Disagreement Every Time. To work with her one-on-one, have her present to your team, request a custom workshop or invite her to speak at your event, please call 302-307-3091 or email her at

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