You're Allowed to Say "No"
Jeff Keller

You've got more work than you can possibly handle.  Not to mention the time you're spending as an officer of your trade association. . . and as coach of your child's soccer team.

Your phone rings and it's Sally, another officer of the trade association.  Sally tells you what a great job you're doing for the Association and then asks if you'd be willing to chair the Committee putting on a large event in three months.

You know this project will involve countless hours of work, including weekends.  You get a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.  Your heart tells you to say "no."  Your spirit tells you to say "no."  But somehow, what comes out of your mouth is "Yeah, I'll do it."

What happened here? How did "no" turn into "yes?"  Maybe you didn't want to let others down.  Or, perhaps, you wanted to be liked.  For whatever reason, you agreed to do something that you didn't want to do.  For most of my life, I lived this way, saying "yes" when I really wanted to say "no."  I'll bet you've done the same thing many times.

This can happen at work when someone asks you to take on an extra task, or to help out on the weekend.  And in our leisure time, we also have to make decisions when it comes to family, community and other activities.

I know what some of you are thinking.  If I say "no" to some of these things, I'm going to look bad or hurt my chances for a promotion.  For example, if I decline a request from my supervisor, I'll be viewed as someone who isn't loyal to the team.  If I say "no" to attending my cousin's wedding (the cousin I haven't seen in 15 years), the rest of the family will be talking about me.

Yes, there ARE consequences to saying "no."  You might not get the promotion.  Your relatives might talk about you behind your back.  But let's not kid ourselves here.  There are also consequences to saying "yes" when you don't want to say "yes."  You become resentful and angry.  You feel that you're not in control of your own life.  You're not living a life that's consistent with your values and priorities.

I'm not encouraging you to become lazy and refuse to go the extra mile at work and in your personal life.  We all do activities that we don't particularly enjoy, like working through lunch on a key project or attending a wake after a long day at work.

Furthermore, this isn't about being selfish and thinking only of your own interests.  But I'm here to say that YOU count, too!  And you block your own success when you feel resentful about doing things you don't want to do.  Unwanted activities are not only time consuming; they drain your energy.

So, what can you do to help you say "no" instead of "yes?"  It's very helpful to set boundaries, because that will help dictate your answer when someone asks you to do something.  Even better, let people know about these boundaries beforehand so they won't be taken by surprise when you say "no."  For instance, if you resolve that you won't work on weekends (except in certain limited, emergency situations), when someone asks you to help out on Saturday, you can decline and tell them you spend weekends with your family.

For me, my exercise time on Saturday and Sunday is sacred.  If I'm not doing a weekend presentation or traveling, it takes a lot for me to cancel or re-schedule my exercise sessions.  If someone asks me to do something during those times, I will politely say "no" because I value my health and well being too much to let other things get in the way.

I also get numerous requests to speak at certain service clubs and trade association meetings on weekday nights.  I am honored to be asked, but in most instances, I will politely decline.  I set some boundaries and decided that I will do a certain number of these presentations each year, but that's it.

Otherwise, I won't be able to spend quiet time at home in the evenings.  If anyone thinks I'm being unreasonable, that's okay.  I feel better about the decision I've made because I'm being true to what's important in my life.  As a result, I've found that my presentations are more authentic and effective.

You might think that you're indispensable. . . that you have to say "yes" because the world will fall apart if you don't run to the rescue each time.  What nonsense!  In the end, you let yourself down and wind up feeling hurt.

Here's the bottom line: You're allowed to say "no."  It's a small two-letter word with the power to liberate you and significantly improve the quality of your life.


Jeff Keller is the President of Attitude is Everything, Inc.  For more than 15 years, Jeff delivered presentations on attitude and motivation to businesses, groups and trade associations throughout the United States and abroad. Jeff is also the author of the highly acclaimed book, Attitude is Everything. For more information, go to

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That you may retain your self-respect, it is better
to displease the people by doing what you know is right,
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William J.H. Boetcker