5 steps to saying “no” without guilt

For far too many entrepreneurs, especially women, “no” is a four-letter word: rude, crude, and socially unacceptable.

What’s with that?

Helping others and making a difference are two of the reasons many entrepreneurs start their businesses to begin with. That might make it seem as if saying “no” flies in the face of your desires. In reality, however, “no” frees and empowers you to focus  your efforts where you can do the most good. This serves the world much better than allowing your energy to be depleted doing things other people will try to convince you you “should” be doing.

As with so many other growth opportunities, getting to the point where you can say “no” without feeling guilty is simple, but definitely not easy. The good news is that, even if making this change is not easy, it’s far from impossible.



“No” is a choice that can boost your success and your personal power.


If you’re ready to tap the power of “no” while banishing the guilt, jump on these tools.


Stop preparing; start doing.

If most people around you have come to expect you to accept every request made of you, chances are excellent that you’ll feel the need to prepare for behaving differently.  This makes perfect sense, since any new behavior on your part will necessarily require new behavior on the part of other people – and they may not be as courageous about change as you are.

The good news is that there are excellent resources available to help you develop new tools, tactics, and strategies to become more comfortable with saying “no.” (One classic resource is Manuel Smith’s book, When I Say No, I Feel Guilty.)  The bad news is that you’ll probably be tempted to prepare…and prepare…and prepare…when what you actually need to do is act.

So give yourself a fixed amount of time to learn new tools and enlist an accountability partner to hold you to that schedule so that you can stop preparing and start doing. Then you’ll be ready for the next step:


Success requires you to say NO sometimes.


Practice in low-risk situations first.

You’re the only one who can decide what “low risk” means for you. Perhaps it’s comfortably refusing the offer of an extended warranty on a new appliance. Perhaps it’s shutting down a telephone solicitor (yes, they’re still out there) quickly and firmly. Whatever the occasion, it’s less important when you start saying “no” than that you start saying it.


Focus on the positive results of “no”.

If you feel your neck or gut tightening at the mere thought of saying “no” to someone who’s accustomed to hearing “yes”, you get to remind yourself why you’ve chosen to change your own behavior and others’ expectations of you. When you set clear yet respectful boundaries, you:

In other words, saying “no” without feeling guilty is a learned behavior with a very high return on investment.


Don’t expect perfection right off the bat (or ever).

If you’ve spend decades learning to feel guilty when you say “no”, why in the world would you expect to turn around your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in just a few days or weeks?

The first step in the process is to simply get your mouth used to forming the word, as discussed above. When you’re just starting out and you decline someone’s request, you may (probably will) still feel guilty. That’s okay. You’ll survive the guilt, and they’ll survive your “no”. Which leads to the final, and perhaps most crucial aspect of this powerful change you’ve chosen to create.


Be brave—and respectful—enough to allow other people to manage their own feelings, rather than trying to do it for them.

One of the biggest and least productive life lessons I learned as a child was that I was somehow the cause of other people’s feelings and therefore responsible for making them feel good. ACK!!! This made me an emotional prisoner to anyone who wanted me to do something that was helpful for them but not so helpful for me.

After decades of working on myself, I finally got to the point where, more often than not, I’m able to not accept responsibility for anyone else’s feelings. You can do the same. Does that mean that you ride roughshod over others? Certainly not! It does mean that you don’t let others ride roughshod over you.


While you may find it easiest to see the value of saying “no” in personal interactions, this skill is also crucial for entrepreneurial success. Let’s face it: If you say “yes” to every idea or opportunity that comes along, you’ll soon be so buried in possibilities that you’ll either end up madly running like a hamster on a wheel or standing frozen in place like a deer in the headlights. Neither approach is likely to create the results you envisioned when you started your business.

And there’s almost no limit to the number of go/no-go opportunities you’ll face. For example, you get to make this decision when:

Is this to say that you make “no”  your default response to any request? Nope—but you can view it as a perfectly valid option you’re always willing to consider. And since such decisions will be part of your life for as long as you own your business, you owe it to yourself to streamline your decision-making. So whenever you’re asked to do something or offered an opportunity, consider these crucial questions first:

If your answers are “no”, “no”, “no”, and “yes”, respectively, then you have both the right and the responsibility to walk away from the request or the opportunity.

Is that easier said than done? Usually. Is it worthwhile? Almost always. Is it easier to do with someone cheering you on and kicking you in the butt when that’s what you need to do this tough stuff? Typically.

If you find yourself struggling to feel calm and confident about your yes/no decisions, maybe I can help.

You already know from personal experience how it’s always easier to see the pros and cons of someone else’s choices than to see them in your own situation. For the right client, I serve as an objective observer who can guide you through the morass of options to the one that’s best for you right now…and I’ll be sure to hold you accountable for saying what needs to be said and doing what needs to be done to get you where you want to go.

Am I the right consultant/cheerleader for you? Are you the right client for me? No way to know unless we connect and explore the possibilities. That’s why I invite you to call me at 319-270-1214 (U.S.) or email me to set up a get-acquainted call.  The point of the call is just that: getting acquainted so we can figure out if we’re a good fit for each other. If we are, woohoo for us! If not, we both get to practice saying “no” without feeling guilty.

How’s that for a no-lose situation?

(By the way, thanks to sboneham for posting his “no” image in the Creative Commons section of Flickr.)

This entry was posted in personal power, productivity and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to 5 steps to saying “no” without guilt

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

— Web design by wizzy wig design Minneapolis MN —