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It's the Most Terrifying Word You'll Ever Say

It’s just one word.

It’s a word that is so loaded with potential misinterpretation that we find lots of other words to use instead.

Maybe. Let’s table this for now. We might need to revisit this later. I need to think about this. I’ll get back to you.

So much work to find ways to avoid one simple word.


There are all kinds of blog posts and ebooks and seminars dedicated to teaching us how to say no (and in multiple languages). Doesn’t that blow your mind a bit, how difficult we find it to say such a simple word?

how to say no

Over 3,230,000,000 Google search results on “how to say no“, and they all promise you the different ways you can approach it.

“We can tell you how to say no respectfully,” one post says.

“We’ll tell you how to say no to everything ever,” said another.

“Read our scientific guide on saying no,” says a website.

We’ve even covered it ourselves, on this blog.

I’m not going to tell you how to say no, because I haven’t mastered it myself. I’m not going to give you three helpful tips that you’ll forget as soon as you’re faced with something you want to say no to. There are millions of blog posts waiting to give you those secrets.*

Instead, I’m going to tell you why you can’t say no. Maybe that’ll help you find the courage to say no.


Guilt, Fear, And Self Doubt

Creative people can’t say no because of self-doubt.

We’re never too sure about ourselves. We take every project that comes our way, even the underpriced ones, because they mean that someone has affirmed our skills. We’re not sure we can do it, but someone else thinks we can. And so we say yes. We want affirmation. And we say yes to every idea because we don’t believe our own judgment telling us which ideas are good, bad, or not for us.

Businesses can’t say no because of fear.

They are afraid to turn down a customer, a job, an opportunity. That’s lost revenue, and maybe negative word-of-mouth. How do we know which things we should do and which we shouldn’t? It’s safer to do all of them and not miss out on the great ones. That’s fear, fear of missing out.

People can’t say no because for most of us, it makes us feel guilty.

guilt saying noSaying no means we’re not helping, we’re leaving someone else holding the bag.

“Would you be interested in doing such-and-such?”
“But it would only take a little time. It’s easy.”
“But this is a great idea!”
“It is a great idea. But no.”

Hurts to read that, doesn’t it?

So everything becomes a yes and we do things, if we’re lucky, at about 80 percent effectiveness. We give maybe 80 percent of our focus to the things that matter. Our attention is split between a) managing many things that should have been “no” and b) dealing with feelings of frustration that we didn’t say no.

The Power Of No

No brings power.

You get more freedom. You get more of your time. You retain focus on what you really want to do. You set up boundaries for protection and for reputation. You face up to fear and challenge it. You put yourself in high demand, because so few people actually say no. A gem is just a rock until it’s hard to come by.

When you say no right now, you subscribe to the idea that opportunities continue to come along and that you have the confidence to do something about that when you finally decide it’s a yes.

*There is no secret to saying no. You must muddle around and make mistakes before arriving at a strong place on your own where you can calmly say, without guilt, fear, or self-doubt: No.

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