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3 Ways to Say No and Be More Assertive in Business

indexHave you ever noticed how many times a week you say “yes” to a person or project, only to end up regretting your decision?  Of those commitments, how many were actually in line with your business priorities?

If you lack standards or fear rejection, it can come at a high cost: missed milestones, losing clients, physical exhaustion, irritability, and stress.

When your default setting is to reply “yes” to each and every request that comes across your plate, it’s the same as relinquishing your focus, which only pushes you further away from your goals. As an entrepreneur, you simply can’t afford that.

Ready to learn how to protect your time and energy? Here are three typical business scenarios with tips on how you can respond:

  1. The freeloader.
    When you’re confronted by a pushy prospect who tries to wheedle free information or work from you, it’s your job to instruct the client on how they can pay to work with you. The next time someone tries to solicit your expert advice, insist on setting up a formal consultation to lay out a work plan and to determine whether it would be a good fit to work together.If you don’t think it’s going to work out, say so and end the meeting on a friendly note. If you’d like to stay connected, share a few high-quality resources to help them, such as books, blogs, or courses. The prospect will respect you for your honesty and assistance. There’s nothing to lose other than a “tire kicker” who never intended to become your client in the first place.
  2. The scope creeper.
    This is a client who wants to slip in a few extra tweaks to the project — after he’s signed off on the proposal. This person tends to make repeated, onerous requests that threaten to derail the project’s schedule (and your sanity).In those cases, it’s better to be firm and upfront in the preliminary meeting and set boundaries for ad hoc requests even before the requests come in. Let the client know your policy on any post-project signoff change requests (such as rejection or subject to cost and time penalties). So when the requests come in, you can refer to the earlier meeting when you both set clear expectations.
  3. The dead-end meeting.
    Saying yes to extraneous meetings not only leads to calendar clutter, but it can be time-consuming and leave you feeling mentally wiped and annoyed. Before committing to anything, ask yourself: In what measurable ways will this meeting move the project forward?When a meeting request hits your inbox, try replying with “thank you so much for thinking of me. Let me check my schedule and get back to you!” This script gives you a chance to take a pause and consult your schedule. Weigh the cost and benefits of the meeting and then get back to the requestor with a confident answer. If you find that saying no is too difficult or if you’re curious about the meeting, ask for more information before you commit. This will help you gauge whether the meeting is necessary or relevant to your project. And if you agree to meet, set a firm time limit for the session.

Saying “No” is a Gift You Give Yourself

Not only does it help reduce calendar chaos and anxiety, it will make you available — both physically and mentally — for the things that are really vital to your business. This action serves almost like a business armor, protecting your bottom line and your most important resource: time.

The ability to say no isn’t something they teach in any MBA program, but over time, you’ll find that it can be your most valuable asset as an entrepreneur.


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3 Ways to Say No and Be More Assertive in Business

Melody Wilding, LMSW

Melody Wilding, LMSW is a performance coach, licensed social worker, and has a Masters from Columbia. She helps established and rising managers and executives advance in their careers. Her clients work at companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, HP, and Deloitte. She also helps entrepreneurs take bold steps to grow their businesses. Melody has helped over 10,000 smart, self-aware people like you. Her coaching gives you actionable strategies to reach your goals. You get concrete steps to overcome the complex struggles of success. Melody loves arming ambitious people with tools and tactics to boost their confidence. She can teach you skills for assertiveness and influence. Her specialties include better managing your emotions at work. Melody also teaches Human Behavior at CUNY Hunter College in NYC. She writes about psychology and careers for Inc., Forbes, Fast Company, and more. Click here and grab the FREE COURSE to go from insecure to unstoppable confidence 5 DAYS TO FREEDOM FROM SELF-DOUBT..

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APA Reference
Wilding, M. (2018). 3 Ways to Say No and Be More Assertive in Business. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 20 Sep 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.