Career Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No in Business Settings

Power of No in Business How to say No

Career Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No in Business Settings

I spent one evening last week with a group of dynamic, intelligent businesswomen, all entrepreneurs. One of their questions during our chat over dinner was, “What is the best way to say no in business?” 


As of this morning, there were eight billion Google searches for – “How to say No in Business.”


How to Say No in Business


The struggle to say no is real and is quickly confirmed with very little research.

I’ve read about blaming “saying no” on your workload. There was also this quote that I found: “it’s important to recognize the difference between an opportunity and a distraction.” You can consider those options, but they don’t work as well for me as I find other approaches more sincere and easier to remember than the ones that can be made up as an excuse.


I do think women have more challenges saying no because we tend to think we can always do just one more thing. We’re famous for multi-tasking. How many times has this happened to you? Your plate is full, you add one more thing, and then you have the overwhelm of not knowing how you are going to get it all done? We also tend to put others’ needs before our own. 


You have heard it from me before; I find Warren Buffet fascinating. As you might guess, I researched what he says about saying no in business. Here it is. “We need to learn the slow yes, and the quick no.” While this is solid advice, I think as entrepreneurs, we have a fear of missing out and end up saying yes to things we regret later, even when, at the time, we probably actually knew we should say no.


Before we talk more about saying no, let’s explore and understand why it is that we say yes. It can be for many reasons; here are the most common reasons we say yes when we should say a slow yes or quick no in business settings:


  1. We say yes to avoid conflict
  2. We say yes due to fear of disappointing or hurting another person
  3. We say yes simply to get along
  4. We say yes to being liked


As an entrepreneur, we experience many requests for our time on a daily basis. The truth is we can’t say yes to everything; it’s not realistic. In addition, if we say yes to everything, then we lose our focus on our goals, we don’t achieve them, then we feel defeated. This isn’t a place that we want to be in our lives, yet we are constantly revisiting this space because of our habit of saying yes.


Our desire to be helpful can keep us saying yes when we should say no.  One of the best things you can do for yourself and for your business is to say no. And yet, we continue to say yes.


Learn How to Say No


Saying no is a learned skill. What are the steps you need to take to get confident and comfortable doing it? We always get better at everything with practice, which is why I’ve listed a few examples of how you can practice getting better at saying no and setting better business boundaries.


Example #1: “While I understand why you are looking for an event or promotional partner, based on the number of requests coming in, I’m not able to take on another event at this time.”


Example #2: “Thank you for contacting me. Unfortunately, I am not able to help at this time.”


Example #3: “While I can’t help you with (fill in the blank), I can recommend another professional that would be a good fit for the job.” (provide referral name)


Remember, people don’t know what you are currently working on, so providing context is helpful. However, you don’t need to give them a slurry of excuses – you can simply say you don’t have the time.


“I am currently working on several other initiatives. Right now, if I take on one more thing it will dilute my efforts and the time commitment I have already made to my current projects.”


I love the advice Good Therapy ™ shares about saying no: “Being able to say no may enable you to be more honest and authentic with others. You may be less likely to feel taken advantage of, and people may learn to come to you for the things to which you are more inclined to say yes.” Be clear, consistent, and concise. Communicating to others that they have been heard can strengthen the relationship, even when you say no.


And Frank Partnoy, the author of Wait, also has good advice on when and how to say no: “Given the crush of technology, email, social media and 24-hour news, most of us react and decide too quickly. We are hard wired to respond to fast, salient stimuli, even when it’s to our disadvantage.”


We can all relate to this. Let’s face it, it’s simply hard to say no. One thing I know for sure. If we practice, we will get better.


When to say no and yes, along with setting business boundaries, are skill sets that are essential to achieving your goals! However, all of us need assistance from others more than once in our life to support us so we can be our best. If you are unsure where to start, I’d love to connect with you to help you achieve your personal and professional goals. Reach out to find out how we can work together via my contact page today!


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Mary Williams

Mary is a business etiquette and protocol expert for executives and rising stars who want to unleash their best self and achieve their goals. A veteran of the C-Suite, Mary is a passionate advocate for utilizing the best skills in business etiquette and protocol to ensure meaningful actions for success in business and life. After more than a dozen years in her role as chief of staff, Mary launched her own dream business, Mary Williams, Your First Impression Authority. As a graduate of The American School of Protocol and a certified Business Coach, in addition to working at the highest levels of national and international organizations, Mary understands both the demands and the complexities of maneuvering effectively through business and life.   She is a regular presenter at university business schools, nonprofit organizations, trade association conferences, as well as corporate events. Her mission is to share all she has learned along the way, and in doing so provide effective business coaching to ultimately help people reach their true potential, utilizing distinct techniques and simple steps that guarantee success.

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