JDA Talent Development Director Laura Browne has built a successful career in corporate training and talent development, delivering programs and coaching professionals in the technology, transportation, manufacturing and non-profit sectors. She understands the value of saying “yes” as a way of advancing your career, but also appreciates that sometimes “no” is the better answer. In this week’s Wednesdays for Women blog post she offers advice on how and when to say no.


I absolutely agree with the recent blog post from Beth Elkin about why we should say yes. Some of my best projects and jobs came from taking that leap of faith and saying yes even when I wasn’t 100% sure.

It’s also important for you to be able to say no. Here are five suggestions to help you for those occasions when you have to say no.

Understand What They’re Asking

Find out what the person really wants and when they really need it. When they say, “I need this information by Wednesday,” what do they mean? Maybe they just need something in particular from you by Wednesday. By understanding the results they want, you can say yes to some things and no to others.

When I ask for more information, I usually explain why so they realize how it can help them. I will sometimes phrase this as, “I want to make sure I understand more about the project so I can work as efficiently and effectively as possible to help you meet your goals. Can you answer a few questions for me?” Who is going to say they won’t answer questions for someone who wants to work efficiently and effectively?

Suggest a Delay

You might be able to give the person what they need if you have more time. I might say, “Monday’s not going to work. I’d be happy to have it to you by next Friday.” When you do say that though, you need to be realistic. If you’re not sure you’ll be able to help them later, it’s better to just say no.

Keep the Explanation Short

Use a simple statement instead of a long explanation, which tend to sound like excuses.

You can say:

  • “That’s just not going to work with my schedule…”
  • “I’m afraid I’m going to have to pass…”
  • “I wish I could – unfortunately there’s a conflict…”

Offer Alternatives

Let the person know what you can do for them. Can you suggest someone else that can? If you’re a manager, this may be an opportunity to give exposure to someone on your team who is looking to contribute in a new way or gain experience working with a different team. Your no can become their yes!

Consider recommending alternative resources to help them with the information they need.

Don’t Wait

If you know you won’t be able to do something, let the other person know right away so they have enough time to adjust. Sometimes we procrastinate because we don’t want to give the other person bad news, but it’s better to do it as soon as possible so they have time to get other help.

There are times we all need to say no. It can be uncomfortable and feel like we’re letting other people down. These suggestions can help you deliver a difficult message while still building and maintaining strong working relationships.  I’m interested in knowing about your experiences. Please share in the comments below what has worked for you when you’ve needed to say no.