Savvy Ways to Say NO!

By Sheryl Nicholson, CSP


Sheryl Nicholson, CSP

Sheryl Nicholson, CSP

Here are some examples of how to “say no,” and effectively communicate that message to solicitors, and associations that want you to volunteer your time over and over again.

Solicitors. Even if you are on the “do not call” list, sometimes a solicitor can catch you on the phone at night, on weekends, and at dinner.  We hear their scripted dialogue and we really don’t have the time to listen to it.  I usually give them the courtesy and allow them to finish their script (after all it is THEIR job and I don’t want to be rude…everybody has to make a living.)  So here are several responses that have worked for me.


“Thank you for calling.  No, I’ve already given to my designated charity for this year.” Or 

“NO. I know you must value your time as I do mine, so please take me off of your list so that you won’t be wasting your time again in the future.  Thank you.”  Or 

“No thank you and I hope you have good luck with your other calls tonight.  Goodbye.” Or


“No thank you, NO THANK YOU, NO THANK YOU” (Pausing between the no’s, escalating your tone, and strengthening of your voice). Remember tone of voice is just as important as the words you will use.


Interruptors.  Alternate offerings have been used in several of our examples so far.  By giving an alternate choice, you are helping the other person feel in control by allowing them to choose Option A or Option B.  When doing this make sure you are the one coming up with the options because after all, you too are accepting which choice they make.  Alternative choice is a good tool to use with people who interrupt your work day.  Time management experts will tell you that you actually control very little of your day because of these interruptions.  You take pride in getting as much done on your task list as possible yet, someone, maybe even your boss, drops by and requests that you stop everything and put priority on their project.

First of all you need to know that when someone asks “gotta minute?”  You can tell them …”no now I’ve got 22”.  Not really – you don’t have to be a smart alec – and yet in reality, the research shows that if you were in concentrated thought and working on something, when you are interrupted it will take you 22 minutes to re-focus at the level you were at BEFORE the interruption.  Wow – that’s a lot of time wasted.  So my suggestion is to answer “gotta minute” this way…

“No, I’m working on something right now.  I can talk with you at lunch (Option A) instead or after work (Option B)”  Or 

“No, I’ve got 6 minutes.  Can you tell me what you need in that time or do we need to reschedule?”  One thing I have noticed is when you are specific about what time you DO have…people take notice.  When I say I’ve got 6 minutes…they are thinking…wow she’s serious with her time.  If they know it can’t be handled in 6 minutes they will likely respond with “oh, no,. never mind, it wasn’t important.  Sorry to disturb you.”  Or 

“Oh, it will take more than 6 minutes so yes let’s meet for lunch instead.”

“No I can’t do that and get the other work you’ve delegated to me completed.  So could you use Nancy in Bookkeeping or Joe in Customer Service to help you?” Or  

“Yes I can do that but this other work won’t get done, which project do you want completed today, this one or that one?”


The other types of interrupters are the ones that just show up…unannounced, without     permission.     As a bonus, here’s what you do with them.


First recognize the fact that they often walk into your room talking…even if you’re on the phone or doing something.  They’re talking because they think you haven’t noticed them in the room.  So notice them.  As soon as they come into the room, give them a hand signal (a nice one) to let them know you know they have arrived.  Then once off the phone, give them a minute and look at your watch.  This is non-verbal communication that lets them know you are watching your time.  If that doesn’t work, and they are still talking, after a minute stand up like you’re going somewhere.  And the final step, go somewhere!

Someone in one of my classes told me that she actually has a team member who will follow her into the bathroom and keep talking.  If that is the case, then exit the building.  Grab your car keys like you’re going to the store.  Walk around the office outside and then return.

Then assertively ask for a meeting and set some guidelines about how and when to interrupt.

One company that uses cubicles as work space, has a flag system.  They have little flags that they keep on their desks.  If the flag is at “half mast” that means “I’m busy, don’t interrupt.”  Another client company uses large felt dots on their cubicles.  Red means “stop, I’m busy, do not disturb”.  Yellow means “I’m busy, if it’s important you can interrupt for a minute.”  Green means “I’m working but can be disturbed.”  See how important guidelines are in assertive communication with other team members?  OK, let’s take on another example where you may need to say no.

Clubs and Organizations.  You’ve been actively involved in several organizations and now to get a life balanced, you’ve decided that you are going to step down from some of those positions.  Shocked, your associates come to you and beg and plead for you to just hang on for a few more months.  Your possible responses:


“I appreciate your thoughts and no. In the best interest of our organization, we need to build leaders from our new members.  I’ve kept an eye on Stephen all year and I believe he would do well on our board.  Thank you for supporting my decision.”  Remember…no guilt in your voice!  Or 

“No thank you.  I’ve enjoyed serving our members, now it’s time to pursue other personal and professional interests.”  Or 

“No.  I knew this would be difficult for all of us so I have asked Deborah if she would be open to taking my position and she has said yes.”  


About Sheryl Nicholson, CSP:  CSP Sheryl Nicholson is an International Professional Speaker and Author.  She has been doing training since the 1980s and also has a private coaching business.  She is known as a People Productivity Expert focusing on skill development in sales, leadership, time management, goals, communication, and life balance.  As a private coach she focuses on Successful Presentation Strategies.