How Women Leaders Can Say ‘No’ and Feel Good About It

Do you ever say ‘yes’ just because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or seem uncooperative? Do you often say ‘no’ and then apologize your way back into a ‘yes’ after all? Yeah, we women, even as leaders, tend to struggle with saying ‘no’ and feeling good about it, don’t we? Why is that?

One of the main reasons, I suspect, is because the world has lied to us. Yes. Our world has told us that we should be able to do it all. They’ve told us that saying ‘no’ is selfish. Our culture has tried to convince us that by not saying ‘yes’ we’re not being a team player or cooperative.  Those lies are all bunk.

In her book, The Best Yes, Lysa TerKeurst reminds us, “Whenever you say yes to something, there is less of you for something else. Make sure your yes is worth the less.” We each have limited amounts of time and energy. We have to optimize what we have of each by being intentional with them. Before we get into some very practical ways you can begin to say ‘no’, let’s start with why you should say ‘no’ and feel good about it:

  • Your ‘no’ can become a ‘yes’ for someone else who is waiting for that same opportunity.
  • Your ‘no’ may be the catalyst to change how somethings always been done before.
  • Your ‘no’ will give you more time to focus on your priorities.
  • Your ‘no’ allow more margin for reflection in your life.

Honestly, I think most of us know all of this already, don’t we? But why do we still struggle? Because we don’t really confidently believe that we are worth the ‘yes’. We have to change our mindset about this yes/no battle. Need some support with this? Remind yourself with these affirmations, daily if necessary:

  • God has given me purpose. Hearing Him say, ‘Well done’ is more important than pleasing anyone else.
  • My spouse, my family, and my friends deserve my love and attention, and I will prioritize my relationships with them.
  • I can only give my best to others if I live a healthy, rested, and peaceful life. I must invest in myself to serve others.
  • Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. My ‘have to’ (responsibility) can become someone else’s ‘get to’ (privilege).

So, how do you actually say, ‘no’ and feel good about it? Try adding these phrases to your arsenal:

  • I’m honored that you thought of me for this opportunity, but it doesn’t align with my priorities right now.
  • I’m not available to assist you with that project, but I recommend you speak with my friend/colleague so-and-so. She is gifted in projects just like this and has been hoping to get more involved.
  • I’m very focused on this-and-that-project right now, but I’ll let you know if someone else comes to mind to recommend.
  • No, but thank you for the invitation.

Resist – I repeat – Resist the temptation to go into a long apology. Let the stunned pause hang in the air. Let them speak next. If you get the likely response of, “Oh, are you sure, you’re so good at it…”, you simply say, “Thank you for your kindness; I’m sure.” Then, be quiet. Let that hang in the air again. Saying ‘no’ gets easier the more you embrace it…I promise.

Lest you think I don’t understand the struggle, I gave two big ‘no’s’ myself this week. I didn’t wince with a bit of pain either. Why? Because the ‘yes’ wouldn’t have been worth the less of me for the priorities I have this quarter. By saying ‘no’ to the two offers to minister, I was able to give my best ‘yes’ to my coaching clients, mastermind ladies, my health, and my family. I know that my ‘no’s’ will enable others with opportunity, and I feel good about it.