How to Say ‘No’ in the World Full of ‘Yes’

How to Say No

My weak biology let me down again recently.

For two days I was completely decommissioned by food poisoning. Crumpled: like a tissue caught in a shit storm. It was pretty embarrassing actually; the sounds coming from the bathroom I commandeered were not ear friendly. No one was using it after me.

But that part didn’t concern me. What did was that I wouldn’t be working for the next few days while my body restored its will to live. Unfortunately, food poisoning couldn’t care less about my Google calendar and the ill fate struck mid workweek. Fortunately, however, due to the nature of my job, which can be done remotely, I could take two days off without having to ask the permission of a superior. It just meant I’d be playing catch-ups.

During these two days, between resting my face in the stones of my Balinese shower, I had to reject to a lot of offers – something that doesn’t feel natural regardless of the legitimacy in my excuse. I watch a lot of my type-A-creative-hustler friends fight this same battle, and to greater, more detrimental degrees. For me the poison was the catalyst for a clearer schedule, but for others it lies in the angst of saying ‘nay’.

This toil comes from a place of fear. We’re afraid to miss opportunities, to hurt feelings, to come across too pedantic, picky or inflexible. We’re afraid there isn’t enough time in this puny, pathetic life so we say ‘yes’ to absolutely everything only to learn there is just no time when you fill it like Tetris. The irony, right?

Saying ‘yes’ is empowering, but saying ‘no’ should be too. It’s a tool for setting boundaries and warding off feelings of frustration, resentment and obligation. It’s a safeguard to keep us from over committing, under delivering and rushing toilet breaks. No one wants to do that.

The key is in crafting your ‘no’ without draining your ‘agreeability tank.’ I might not have guts of steel, but I can certainly wield words. So, for you, my conflicted comrades, here are a few tips on how you can say ‘no’ without contaminating your reserve.

Tip #1: a ‘no’ can be firm without being rude

Application: Will you come be a part of this obscure thing with me?

Hey Perry,

Thanks for reaching out. Your podcast ‘Paranoise’ sounds fascinating. I’ll drop the name to my conspiracy-interested friends.

In regards to me coming on as a guest, while I do love a good theory, I don’t feel that our brand identities align. I am currently working to keep my messaging clear and consistent across all platforms so in this instance I am going to courteously decline your offer. I appreciate you thinking of me.

Best of luck with the project! I’ll keep an eye out for you on iTunes.

P.S. You could try contacting my friend Rod – he might be a good resource. Here is his contact: [insert Rod’s map coordinates here]

Tip #2: a ‘no’ doesn’t always require an apology

Application: Could you bend your rules for me, just this once?

Dear Ella,

As per my company policy, I do not commence work on a project until after I have received a 50% deposit of the agreed upon project fee.

Once proof of this deposit has been received (a transfer screenshot is completely fine), I begin right away. Until such time, however, I am obligated to arrange my work schedule around clients who have diligently followed this policy.

I hope you can understand this. If you would like to discuss extending the deadlines for your project, I would be more than happy to revisit your timeline and work off an amendment moving forward.

Speak to you soon.

Tip #3: a ‘no’ can be just as compassionate as a ‘yes’

Application: Can you donate to my crowdfunding campaign/charitable cause/conscious crusade?


You’re finally making a documentary! Holy balls! I can’t wait to disrobe from the waist down, get face deep in a bowl of popcorn and see the extrapolation of your ideas on my TV screen.

While I appreciate that travelling to Africa to investigate the breeding cycle of bat eared foxes is necessary but not cheap, unfortunately my business just isn’t in the position to make a financial contribution right now. However, I can offer you my services as a wannabe social influencer. I know it sounds daft, but I have 1,343 followers and since I got a new dog last month and started posting about him obsessively they’ve jumped up each week. I’d say now at least 35% are animal fanatics.

Oh, since I am also a writer, why don’t you let me go over your campaign documents to see if I can add any pizazz to your copy – free of charge!

Again, so proud to see you doing such great work!

Tip #4: a ‘no’ doesn’t need an explanation

Application: Can we meet up at this very inconvenient time for this very inconvenient purpose?

Hi Brittany,

Apologies for the delay in my response. I’m unable to make a meeting of this kind fit into my schedule right now. Could you shoot me another note the beginning of next month and we’ll try again?

Kind regards.

Tip #5: a ‘no’ doesn’t mean the end of a transaction or missed opportunity

Application: Can you do a very important job for me on very short notice?

Hey Lisa,

What beautiful news. Congratulations!

As honoured as I am to have been considered first to cater for your engagement party, I am unable to take on any more work before the end of the year. The Christmas/New Year period is extremely busy in our line of events and we are booked out until February (yay, no dealing with the in laws)!

Having said that, I would love to design a custom party menu for your hen’s night. Do you have any idea when you might like plan it for? Perhaps put me in touch with your maid of honour and we’ll work on something together to suit your taste.

Looking forward to helping out in any capacity that I able during this special time.

Best wishes.

Tip #6: a ‘no’ doesn’t always need to come with a substitute offer

Application: Can I have something from you for nothing in return?

Hello Rick,

Thank you for reaching out. I definitely believe in the gift of giving but as I have spent the last eighteen months sweating, bleeding and crying over building my business, working for free is just not something I do anymore.

As per my website, my hourly rate is $150 USD. If this is something that fits into your project’s budget I would be more than happy to discuss further and provide you with a service quote, so you know your exact costs upfront.

Let me know what you think?


So, yes, saying ‘no’ can be scary for our guilty human consciences but it doesn’t have to mean to demise of grace, confidence or future prosperity. In fact, you don’t even need to say it at all. Command-find and search for the word ‘no’ in this article. You’ll see it actually doesn’t appear in any of the examples. Yep. Go figure.

Now, go command-find yourself some more free time.


Dojo Bali is a coworking space located on the beautiful island of Bali, Indonesia. Dojo Canggu is open 24/7 and located at Echo Beach, Canggu offering a collaborative and relaxing coworking environment. New locations are coming soon. Stay tuned to find out where the next Dojo will be set up.

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