11 Ways To Say No (Without Actually Having To Say No)

Key Takeaways:

– Setting boundaries and saying no can be difficult, but it’s important for guarding time and energy.
– Jay Papasan offers a range of options to help with setting boundaries and saying no.
– The old way of doing business is over, and it’s important to prepare for tomorrow’s opportunities.
– Saying no can be challenging, especially when it comes to family, friends, co-workers, and clients.
– Overestimating the cost of saying no can make it even harder to set boundaries.
– It’s important to understand what you’re saying no to when you say yes to something.
– There are 11 ways to say no without actually saying no, such as getting ahead of the ask and delaying the decision.
– Escalating commitment and shifting the deadline are also strategies for saying no.
– It’s important to align on priorities and appeal to fairness when saying no.
– Citing conflicts and batch decisions can also help with setting boundaries.
– Directing traffic to an alternate resource is another way to say no.
– Apologizing with regret can be a way to say no while still being polite.
– Saying no to requests that don’t meet your needs can lead to more time for yourself and your work.
– Jay Papasan is a bestselling author and the Vice President of Strategic Content at Keller Williams Realty, Inc.


Setting boundaries and saying no doesn’t have to be so difficult with help from best-selling author Jay Papasan. He offers a range of options from delicate to direct to help you guard your time and energy.

The verdict is in — the old way of doing business is over. Join us at Inman Connect New York Jan. 23-25, when together we’ll conquer today’s market challenges and prepare for tomorrow’s opportunities. Defy the market and bet big on your future.

Saying no is easy when Bark Twain and Winnie the Poodle play tug of war with our Nike Air Force 1s. The rest of the time, it’s hard. This is especially true when we must say no to our family, friends, co-workers and clients.

Part of the challenge is that we routinely overestimate the cost of saying no. Will they think I’m rude or selfish? If I decline today, will I still get invited next time? Still, the only way to take ownership of our limited time is to control our commitments with strategic nos.

“When you say yes to something, it’s imperative that you understand what you’re saying no to.”  — The ONE Thing

11 ways to say no (without saying no)

Please enjoy and employ these 11 ways to say no (without saying no).

1. Get ahead of the ask

When you time-block your big rocks, it gives you a built-in response. “I’m sorry. I already have a commitment at that time.” Note, if that time is dedicated to solo work, avoid the mistake of sharing that info. People will assume you’re meeting with someone and see the block as immovable. 

2. Be on a mission

You are 100 percent engaged. You move through the workspace without making eye contact. Sometimes your speed and body language say it all. Everyone will have to hold their requests for later. Waiters everywhere have mastered the no-eye-contact part of this technique.

3. Delay the decision

You could also call this one “No now, maybe later.” Just reply, “ I can’t right now, can I get back to you?” Many “urgent” requests come with a short expiration date. By the time you circle back, they may have figured it out for themselves (parents with teenagers take note) or found an alternative resource (see No. 10). 

4. Escalate commitment

This is basically a conditional yes. If they agree to your request, you will agree to theirs. They need to have some skin in the game. Scale your counter-proposal to the scope of their ask.

You can request that they email you the details, complete a form, review a document or even sign a contractual agreement (buyer rep agreement, anyone?). You’d be amazed how many people can’t be bothered to even follow up with an email. 

5. Shift the deadline

Similar to Delay the Decision, this is “No, now. Yes, later.” Remember the old “Gone Fishin’” signs? They usually had adjustable clock faces to indicate when the storekeeper would reopen. You can’t meet today, but you’d be happy to at 1 p.m. or 3 p.m. next Tuesday.

6. Align on the priority 

Sometimes people just get caught up in the flow. They dive in without thinking. Even if you are the subordinate, you can raise the question, “Shouldn’t we be working on ____ instead?” They will either agree or provide evidence to the contrary.

7. Appeal to fairness

When you’re stretched thin, worn out and staring at a request that strongly resembles the proverbial last straw, appeal to their sense of fairness. “I would love to help you out, but I already made commitments to [coworkers, clients, etc.] … It wouldn’t be fair to them to not follow through. Thanks for understanding.” This strategy comes in handy when someone ignores your Cite Conflicts. 

8. Cite conflicts

This is an escalation clause. Sometimes you have to spell it out. You simply won’t violate a commitment you made to your family, friends, partners or clients. To blow through this stop sign would violate your principles, and to ask you to violate them anyway would display their lack of principles. 

9. Batch decisions

This is the love child of Delay the Decision and Shift the Deadline with a smidgeon of bureaucracy. No phones at the dinner table. We pay invoices on the 15th and 30th. We consider all offers that come in over the weekend at 9 a.m. on Mondays. You’d love to say yes, but rules are rules. 

10. Alternate resource

If you are being asked for help on something to which you can’t contribute much or don’t have resources to help, you are the wrong person. It’s time to direct traffic. Have you already tried [correct person]? Did you ask Mom? Maybe, you aren’t the optimal place to start. I bet you can do this if you first read this book/watch this class /read the instructions.

You can combine this with almost any other technique. One of my favorites is to first Escalate Commitment with an Alternate Resource and then offer my time.

11. Apologize with regret

This is darn close to a straight no. I’m so sorry. I can’t. I hate to say it, but I’m just not able to right now. Lean into the regret part because there is no because. You shouldn’t always have to provide evidence. In the meantime, you can reassure them it isn’t personal.

When you start saying no to requests that don’t meet your needs, you might be surprised at how easy it is. You’ll get more time for yourself, your work and the things that are most important to you. 

One question to ponder in your thinking time: How can I employ strategic nos to prevent future life regrets?

Jay Papasan is the bestselling co-author of The Millionaire Real Estate Agent, SHIFT, and The ONE Thing. He currently serves as the Vice President of Strategic Content at Keller Williams Realty, Inc.

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Property Chomp's Take:

Setting boundaries and saying no can be a difficult task for many of us. We often worry about how others will perceive us, whether we'll still be included in future opportunities, and if we'll come across as rude or selfish. However, in order to take ownership of our limited time and protect our energy, it's important to learn how to say no strategically. Best-selling author Jay Papasan offers a range of options to help us guard our time and energy, from delicate to direct.

One of the ways to say no without actually saying no is by getting ahead of the ask. When you time-block your schedule and have commitments already in place, you can simply say, "I'm sorry, I already have a commitment at that time." This eliminates the need to decline the request directly and avoids any potential conflict or guilt.

Another effective way to say no is by being on a mission. When you're fully engaged in your work and moving through your workspace with purpose, people will notice and understand that you're not available for interruptions or additional requests. This technique is similar to waiters who master the art of no-eye-contact when they're busy serving customers.

Delaying the decision is another approach to saying no without saying no. You can respond to a request by saying, "I can't right now, can I get back to you?" This buys you some time and allows the requester to either figure out the issue themselves or find an alternative resource. This is particularly useful for requests that have a short expiration date.

If someone is making a request of you, you can escalate commitment by proposing a conditional yes. You can tell them that if they agree to your request, you'll agree to theirs. This shows that they need to have some skin in the game and demonstrates that you're not willing to say yes without some reciprocity.

Shifting the deadline is another way to say no without actually saying no. You can't meet their request right away, but you can propose a different time that works for you. This technique is similar to those "Gone Fishin'" signs with adjustable clock faces indicating when a store will reopen. You're essentially saying, "No, not now, but yes, later."

Sometimes people get caught up in the flow and make requests without thinking. In these situations, you can align on the priority by raising the question, "Shouldn't we be working on ____ instead?" This allows you to redirect their focus and make them reconsider their request.

When you're stretched thin and facing a request that feels like the last straw, you can appeal to fairness. Explain that you would love to help, but you've already made commitments to others and it wouldn't be fair to them to not follow through. This appeals to the requester's sense of fairness and understanding.

Citing conflicts is another way to say no without actually saying no. You can simply state that you made a commitment to your family, friends, partners, or clients and you won't violate that commitment. This shows that you have principles and aren't willing to compromise them.

Batching decisions is a technique that combines delaying the decision and shifting the deadline with a touch of bureaucracy. By establishing certain rules or routines, such as paying invoices on specific days or considering offers at specific times, you can say no to immediate requests by explaining that you follow certain rules or protocols.

If someone asks for your help on something that you're not able to contribute to or don't have the resources for, you can recommend an alternate resource. Direct them to someone else who may be better equipped to assist them. This shows that you're willing to help, but you're not the right person for the job.

Finally, you can apologize with regret as a way to say no. Acknowledge that you're unable to fulfill the request at the moment and express your regret. Lean into the regret part, without providing a specific reason or evidence. Assure the requester that it isn't personal and that you're simply not able to help at this time.

By employing these strategic nos, you can take control of your time and energy. Saying no to requests that don't align with your needs and priorities allows you to focus on what's most important to you. So, next time you find yourself needing to say no, try out one of these techniques and see how it can make the process easier for you.

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