Polite Ways to Say “No”

Are you one of those people who say “Yes” a lot?  Most of us like to please people and be respected….that’s why we often say “Yes”. One of the nine characteristics of the Productivity Ninja we help people develop in our Time Management Workshops, is Ninja Ruthlessness. This can be summarized as “saying No more”. The nine characteristics of the Productivity Ninja are a guideline for different mindsets or attitudes that can help with time management, productivity and stress management. 

Ruthlessness (saying No) is about our ability to protect our time and attention, focusing only on the things that add the greatest impact, even at the expense of other things that are ‘worth doing’.


Productivity Ninja Ruthlessness


I’m often asked…. “I get that saying No is important, can you help me with  polite ways to do this”. People are obviously thinking that they will offend people or commit CLM’s (Career Limiting Moves). I’ll get to that shortly.

Let’s think about always saying Yes

In the book “Yes Man” Danny Wallace decides to say “Yes” to everything for a year. This was simply due to a stranger on a bus simply uttering the words “say Yes more”. One of the lessons Danny learns is that saying “Yes” is good and can have unintended, life-changing consequences, while saying “No” is also important!!!

So, let’s focus on saying “No” politely. This is about responding rather than reacting. What is important is to develop a sense of Ninja “Zen-like Calm” before approaching the conversation. This allows us to have a clear head and communicate clearly. A few slow breaths and gentle movement of the body such as some shoulder rolls can help. Now you’re ready…..


The infographic at the end of this blog post, outlines 5 ways you can say “No” without feeling guilty. They are:

  1. Be honest and straightforward.

Do some preparation and write down your points. Make sure your reasons are clear and truthful.

  1. Do it in person (not via email).

Saying no in person avoids mis-understanding and can also lead to a more clear and positive outcome.

  1. Ask for help prioritising your tasks.

If this involves your boss, grab your task list or schedule and ask for help with setting priorities.

  1. Find the right person.

Maybe there is someone else who is in a better position to say YES to this.

  1. Show appreciation.

If appropriate, thank the person for giving you the opportunity.

It’s important to be aware that often when we are asked to do something that seems unreasonable, the person asking is usually stressed and under pressure. To break the stress cycle and not take it on ourselves it is critical that we take a short break to calm down before taking on the conversation.

If you’re tackling a big issue, maybe a short relaxation or mediation using an app like Calm will help with some de-stressing before going ahead.

Remember that saying “No” is an art and will take some practice. Pushing back is positive constructive and healthy. Start small by considering saying “No” to some meetings that you really don’t need to attend, or meetings that do not have a clearly defined agenda or outcome.

Saying No


Saying No to enhance your productivity

Another great way to get started is to practice saying “No” to yourself. The tips below are simple and will improve your productivity and time management. Choose one of the following:

Say No to distractions

Turning off your phone or wifi so you can concentrate for 30 minutes.

Say No to constantly checking email

Process your email every 2 hours instead.

Say No to procrastinating

Set yourself some limits on things like social media to allow you to get back to the real tasks.

Say No to multitasking

Set yourself one task for the next 15 minutes and focus on doing nothing but that.


Enjoy the journey and say NO to something today. Be Ninja Ruthless (and polite of course). 


Saying No Politely

By Matt Cowdroy 

Matt is Think Productive Australia‘s founder and Productivity Ninja. 

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