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Do you ever struggle saying with “no”?

In his 2014 book—The Power of No—James Altucher writes: “How many times have you had to say ‘no’ only to have it cause anguish, arguments, and anxiety? Even the hours, days, and months before you say no you are filled with anxiety . . . but you have the right to say ‘no.’”

The problem is—no is not always the right answer. Lazy people say “no” all the time. The freedom to say “no” is not a license for being a boat anchor. It’s not permission to bury your God-given gifts. But learning when and what to say “no” to is absolutely critical to your long-term health and fruitfulness.

So, when is “no” appropriate? Figuring this out can be challenging, so let me offer a few ideas that may help you say “no” more effectively:

1. Be missional

Get freshly in touch with your assignment, your calling, your primary responsibilities. If saying yes to an invitation, or to an open door, will cause these to fail—”no” can be appropriate. Use your mission as a filter to help you decide what you will and won’t do.  God holds you accountable for what He has assigned to you, not for what He hasn’t assigned to you.

One of the biggest threats to your life’s purpose is the sheer number of opportunities in front of you. Not every opportunity that presents itself to you is one you should pursue. Some opportunities are distractions waiting to pounce on your purpose and knock you off track. The power of no will keep you focused. And focus makes you more effective

2. Be mindful

When invited to take on a project, pause for a moment and ask yourself: How much time will this require? Do I honestly have the time and energy to give to it? Am I tempted to say “yes” here because I want people to like me? Or because I fear disappointing them? Or, do I sense God compelling me to do this?

The epidemic of depression and anxiety in our country has many contributors. Being unwilling to say “no” is a major factor.

3. Be methodical

Resist the urge to immediately accept an invitation. A better strategy? “Give me a day to think about it and I’ll get back to you.” Sleeping on a decision can bring amazing clarity. If a response is required sooner, at a minimum take some time to consider the invite before you say “yes.”

If you’re an achiever, a Type-A personality, a go-getter—saying “no” will be especially difficult for you.  If you default to people-pleasing—saying “no” will often feel wrong. If you’re entrepreneurial—saying “no” will seem inhibiting to your organization’s growth. Still, the power of no is important for you to learn.

You may be wondering… “OK, I’m semi-interested in this power of no idea. But how do I actually make it work?” Great question. For sure, we can flub up when it comes saying “no.” So how do we actually say “no” and say it well?” Here are some ideas:

1. Be unafraid

Get over your fear of saying the actual word “no.” Park yourself in front of your mirror and practice saying “no” with a smile. Sometimes we substitute “I’m not sure” for our no—even when we know deep down the right answer is no. Being afraid to say the word no and trying to dance around it sends confusing signals.

2. Be direct

Following up your no with a list of ten reasons why you can’t do something is a losing strategy. Being direct is easier when you develop a healthy sense of what you owe people and what you don’t owe them. You don’t have to explain the details of why you can’t say yes, unless you’re talking to your boss (or your spouse). If you say no politely and firmly, that’s enough.

3. Be kind

“No” can be said without a prickly attitude. Recently I was asked to financially support an organization, and I had to say “no”—in person. I believe in the mission of this group, so while saying no, I offered to connect them with friends who were in a better position to help. No doesn’t equal rude.

4. Be consistent

Sometimes your no needs to be repeated before it sinks in. If the first no fails, it doesn’t mean you need to go into a detailed explanation with your second no, or say “no” louder. See the notes under “be direct” and repeat as necessary. Consistency will eventually prevail.

If you’re a people-pleaser, the thought of saying “no” can make you nervous or even nauseous. If you’re an achiever, the idea of no can make you feel lazy or irresponsible. If you’re an entrepreneur, saying “no” can seem like organizational suicide.

When it comes to the power of no, sometimes you’ll pay a price. You may be misunderstood, or criticized. You can’t control how others respond to your no, but don’t let their response knock you off balance. Keep your mission in view, be mindful—and pause to think about a request for your time or resources before you say “yes.”

No is not always easy—but when used appropriately—it can actually simplify your life.  Now, go look in the mirror and practice saying “no” with a big grin on your face!

I’m rooting and praying for you!

John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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