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  • Writer's picturePeter McKenzie

Why saying no makes you a more effective manager… and how to do it more often

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One of the most powerful words in the English language has just two letters...


Do you use it often enough?

If you don´t then perhaps you have the same problem I had years back when I started working.

The younger me was too much of a people pleaser. I would go after everything. I had energy and zest and thought that the more I did for other people, the more they would like me and the more I would advance.

The situation got even worse when I rose through the ranks and became a manager. Not only would I respond to requests from my boss, but I did the same for my team as well!

My career went really well and I associated that with the fact that I accepted pretty much all of the challenges that people gave me.

The downside was that it felt me feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, even close to burnout. I felt like I had no time for what mattered.

Then I learned the power of saying...


It happened when my first coach took me through a review of where I spent my time (an exercise I now do with my coaching clients). It was ridiculous how little control I had over my calendar.

Not only was my work calendar filled, but my leisure time was also blocked by having too many personal commitments.

My coach correctly identified the fact that I was taking on too much. He asked me whether I had a problem saying “no”. I had never really thought about it, but I realized then that I DID have a problem. I didn´t want to let people down.

I was known as someone who got things done. I was dependable. I was trapped.

Then my coach said a phrase that has stuck with me ever since:

“When you say yes to something, you are already saying no to something else”.

He asked me to list what I was missing out on in my life as a result of having too little time.

I listed everything from time with my wife and kids to running, swimming, hobbies (like writing), and even just crashing on the sofa watching a football match. I realized that I was missing out on life by saying yes to too much.

Not just that, I realized that I was out of control, I felt manipulated. That did not feel good.

The writer James Altucher says three things happen when you agree to do something that you don´t want to:

1) you hate what you are doing

2) you resent the person who asked you

3) you hurt yourself

It was time for me to get a bit of my self-esteem back. Following my coach´s advice, I started

to change my attitude.

I started to say no.

At first, it was hard to turn down requests to people who were used to me agreeing to do nearly everything they asked.

It became easier when I defined some rules for myself.

Here they are:

1) Be clear on what you ARE prepared to do

Of course, there will be a lot of things you have to do. Be clear on the activities that you will agree to. Then you will be clear about what you can say no to.

2) Say no to the request, not the person

It is important that you make it clear that saying no to people is nothing personal. You are turning down the request because it doesn´t work for you, not because you have an issue with them as a person.

3) Explain why and don´t lie (this is hard!)

A short explanation will help the other person to accept your change in attitude. Two pieces of advice though:

a) Don´t make up an excuse. Don´t say you can´t do something because of a false alibi. Be honest as this way you won´t feel bad about turning someone down.

b) don´t get involved in a long discussion about your decision. You have the right to decide. Don´t be pursuaded otherwise.

4) Have courage – Face your FOMO and stand firm

Saying no takes some guts, especially if you aren´t used to it. You may feel you will miss out on something in the future as a result of losing favor (the famous “Fear of Missing Out” or FOMO).

Just stick with it. The benefits outweigh the costs, believe me!

5) Practice

Initially, practice saying no to small requests that don´t matter so much. You will begin to see that people start to look elsewhere for their help. You build your habit up, bit by bit like training a muscle.

Eventually, you can say no to almost anything.

No is now a word that I use far more often. The result is that I have become more effective, quite a bit happier and a lot more relaxed.

Warren Buffet once famously said:

“Successful people say no to almost everything.”

You may not be able to make billions like him, but by learning to say no more, you can win back your time and the control of your life.

Not bad for a small, two-letter word!

If you want to learn to say no more, reach out to me for coaching.

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