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An Elegant Way to Say “No”

It’s not “let me think about it”


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Nabil Alouani

3 years ago | 2 min read

Saying “Yes” to someone often means saying “No” to yourself. “Yes” can make you spend time with people you don’t like, work on an extra project you don’t have time for, and pay for shit you don’t need. All while cursing yourself.

Still, most people are afraid to say “No” because it sounds rude, selfish, and disrespectful — which is, of course, bullshit.

Prioritizing what’s best for you doesn’t have to ruin your relationships nor put you in trouble at work. In fact, saying “No” is associated with charisma, honesty, and career success. After all, when you say “No,” you show the values you stand for and contest bad situations to make them better.

As cliché as this may sound, saying “No” without sounding like an asshole is a valuable life skill we should all learn. There are many ways to do it and this is my favorite one.

What’s the trick?

Whenever you say “No” explain it with a rule.

Sounds a bit confusing? Let’s illustrate with an example.

“I have a rule with meetings,” one of my clients once said. “Never in the morning! Early work hours are for my technical stuff and emails.”

Just like that, you could dodge an invitation without sounding arrogant. There’s a caveat though. Making up imaginary rules doesn’t work well because people can tell, especially if you meet them often.

Your best bet is to make actual rules you live by based on your diet, values, habits, and obligations. You’ll be more convinced inside and sounds convincing on the outside.

Why does this trick work?

First, when you mention a rule you make your “No” sound less personal. We all know what happens when someone takes things personally — overactions, grudges, disappointment, and yadda yadda yadda. The trick will help you say what you think without suffering from potential drama.

Second, using a rule will help you overcome the fear of being a joy killer who dismisses friends and colleagues. You’ll feel less guilty because your reaction will seem out of your control. Rules are rules.

Third, rules can save you from future unwanted invitations. A rule like “no meetings in the morning,” sticks easily and can save you a lot of uncomfortable conversations.

Finally, saying “No” is good for your sanity. Jen Kim from Psychology Today argues that the inability to say “No” generates a pattern where you avoid your true feelings. The result? Anxiety, depression, and resentment. Yikes.

Seven examples to inspire you

  • “Oh thanks for the invite but I got a rule with drinking. Weekends only!”
  • “Sorry mate, I have a rule with appointments— never wait for someone for more than 20 minutes. See you another time maybe.”
  • “I never work on more than four projects at once. It’s a personal rule that helps me keep my sanity. Talk about this again next month?”
  • “Y’all go get your cheesy pizzas. I’ll grab a salad because I have a rule with food. High-calory stuff is only for Saturdays.”
  • “I know we had a great chat but I don’t give my number right away. It’s a rule. What about Twitter or Instagram?”
  • “I got a rule with professional calls. Never on weekends. I’m available on Tuesday though. How does that sound?”
  • “Oh I’d love to meet you but first I’d like to have a video chat. It’s a rule I have with people online. When would you be available for a quick chat?”

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Nabil Alouani

Business | Psychology | Marketing — What's your favorite quote? Mine is "True masters are eternal students."


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