THE BLOG
04/27/2013 10:04 am ET | Updated Jun 27, 2013

How to Say 'No' to Everything Ever: A Universal Script for... Well, Everything Ever

Shutterstock

"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 the late, great Steve Jobs' success was to "say no to 1,000 things."

You'll find this theme percolating throughout the biographies of myriad heroes and mentors. Highly-productive and satisfied people say "no" to non-essential projects, tasks, requests and 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, chronically-elevated stress hormones, and tightly-clenched shoulders that never quite sink away from our earlobes.

Sure, there are plenty of things that stop us from saying "no." But not having the right language to do it shouldn't be one of them.

And here's the happy news: With the right wording choices and tone, your "nope!" can be far kinder (and more helpful) than a resentment-laced "yes."

Today, I'm sharing a universal approach for saying "no" to... well, everything ever.

Take this five-step script and store it as a draft in your email inbox. (So that you have no excuse not to say "no!")

Use it often -- and with love.

1. Open with gratitude.

You can't go wrong with gratitude and 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 and 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 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 and magnificent yeses. (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 enjoy 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'm sending love. Keep me posted on your ongoing success."

And that's it. No sweat.

Question of the day: what's the hardest thing you've ever had to say "no" to? (And how did you find the right words?)

For more by Alexandra Franzen, click here.

For more on emotional intelligence, click here.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
We’re basically your best friend… with better taste.