Saying No and “I don’t” might save your life


My calendar is jam-packed– I typically work 12 hour days, and there is always something I should or could be doing. This isn’t a complaint but a declaration that my life is full, busy, and can at times be stressful. I am invited to hundreds of networking events, happy hours, brunches, awards ceremonies and as much as I care about each one, I simply can’t attend all of them. While I might be perceived as someone who is “everywhere”, I have a confession to make… I’m one person, who hasn’t yet received a government grant to clone myself… working on that.  

I am proud to say I’ve gotten better at saying no when I need to. (Sometimes “no, but – here is the scoop on that)  That can seem harsh but let me explain… I often hear how difficult it is for people, especially women to say “no” and I witness the ramifications of this weakness: business owners end up in a doomed partnership (that they knew were a bad idea from the get-go) or friends burn through their weekends because of a multitude of obligations (birthday parties, baby showers, caring for an ailing neighbor, etc.) It’s time to say “no” or better yet, “I don’t (fill in the blank)”, for your own sanity and your personal/business’ brand.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Qualcomm’s Women in Science and Engineering group with the talented Skyler McCurine a few weeks ago on the topic of personal branding.  My presentation was focused on teaching the women how to be thought leaders, in order to acquire new opportunities. Many of the participants were in middle-level, and were hungry to take the next step. It could seem odd to pair personal branding with saying “no”, but these two are, in fact, deeply intertwined. Saying “no” is a filter that determines what projects you accept, which events you attend, and what business relationships you choose to form; all of which illustrate your brand. When you are laser focused on your goals, vision, mission, and values, you can better determine where and how you should spend your time. 

One of the session participants asked an important question about saying “no” as she was trying to rebrand herself within the organization. She had recently been promoted and her duties changed but her colleagues still sent her work, questions, and opportunities that corresponded to her old position–she wanted to know the best ways to politely decline.  I had to share a recent finding published in the  Journal of Consumer Research stating that saying “I don’t” when declining an offer (“I don’t have time, I don’t have the bandwidth, I don’t accept offers for that amount, etc.) was far more effective than saying “I can’t”.  People who said “I can’t” succumbed to temptation 61% of the time – while those who said “I don’t” gave in only 36% of the time. In fact, “I don’t” was even more powerful than just saying “no” by nearly a 50% margin. In short, saying “I don’t” is psychologically empowering, while saying “I can’t” is psychologically draining. I shared this practice with the group and gave her a few sample responses– “thank you for reaching out to me but I don’t oversee this function any longer, let me introduce you to the new employee that does.” Not only were we able to utilize “I don’t” but we also retrained her colleague to seek out the new employee.   

Your time is precious– any minute spent on one thing, is time away from something else. It’s imperative to be frugal with your time and to truly ask yourself if you have the bandwidth or desire before saying “yes”. Perhaps you have the time but don’t have the desire? This is when you ask yourself “what’s in it for me?” 

Remember, this isn’t selfish, it’s a filter.  Everyone will gladly take something from you, especially your time, and I if you’re a giver, lover, and harmony seeking entrepreneur, like myself, you’ll want to attend every event, wedding, baby shower, book launch, and happy hour, but you just can’t (unless you’ve somehow secured a cloning grant).  Try “I don’t…” on for size, trust me, you can’t afford not to!

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