“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”

– Warren Buffet

Ouch! I wonder though… which came first: being successful or learning to say no? At any rate, I know I need to get better at saying no.

Have you heard of Abraham Piper yet?

If not, look him up on TikTok for 60 second doses of provocative thinking. In this episode Piper suggests that getting rejected gives you permission to be clear to others when you are not interested. To be clear, the rejection Piper is talking about here is not the sort of long-term alienation and trauma that people can experience in childhood or in abusive relationships. He’s talking about “ignoring emails” and cancelling meetings and other relatively trivial forms of rejection we all deal with constantly in our daily life.

That said, these “small” rejections are not trivial otherwise we wouldn’t feel so guilty about them! Instead, we can agonize about “how to say no” and read way more meaning into some else’s “No” than is actually there.

For most people, the struggle to say no stems from a desire to be a good person. We’re taught from early on that good people are helpful and we don’t want to be a bad person. Undoing this inherited false insecurity takes practice – lots of it.


Practice knowing your own value:

  • Have a plan for the work and life stuff you need to get done. It’s your time and a calendar can help you protect it.

  • You don’t need to please everyone a change in your plans needs to be worth your while. Ask what it is that they need from you that no one else can provide?

  • Don’t use your plan as an excuse. You don’t have to apologize for being busy with something else and no one needs to know what that something else is.

Practice being direct:

  • Being polite doesn’t prevent you being direct: “I really appreciate you asking. Your proposal is certainly interesting, but my current commitments are more important to me and I don’t want to compromise them.”

  • Lying just makes it worse: to say, “I’ll think about it,” to delay the inevitable can set someone up with false hope and amplify their disappointment.

  • Check that you understand what they’re asking: “So, you need me to work overtime this weekend without overtime pay because the company failed to file a report?

Finally: you’re not a failure just because you said “yes”. We all make mistakes, and it is possible to honestly admit that a “yes” should have been a “no”.

Letting people see you change your mind demonstrates that you are not afraid of your own vulnerability. Furthermore, it will likely give someone else a confidence boost and may help them say “no” too.