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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Say no like a 3-year-old

Updated: May 1, 2023

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“No way! No how!” is our granddaughter Emily’s favorite saying currently. If she doesn’t want to do something, she doesn’t sugar coat it or apologize, she tells you straight out.

Only time will tell if this tendency is replaced with a desire to “people please” and avoid letting people down. Saying “yes” to be helpful and generous. To be appreciated. All noble traits, but at what expense?

Saying yes is also saying no.

Many years ago, when I was a young mother juggling work, home, and volunteer commitments, a close friend gave me some wonderful advice – when we say yes to one thing we are saying no to something else.

That something else is often our families, our sleep and self-care, or our sanity. I have tried to put that advice into practice and avoid saying yes right away and wait until I have given careful and prayerful thought to my motives and the repercussions of saying yes.

I have passed along that advice and added this thought – you can do a lot of things over the course of your life, you don’t need to do them all now. I’ve often found that saying “no” kept open the margin I needed for something else that came along. Something even better.

Leaders know when to say no. And how.

Emily is showing signs of being a natural-born leader. She’s confident and assertive. She knows what she wants. She’s sociable and outgoing. Leaders have many qualities and abilities – among them – not telling everyone “yes” but rather saying “no” much more often.

Warren Buffett put it this way: “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say 'no' to almost everything.”

Although saying no as easily as a 3-year-old may be wise, saying it just like a 3-year-old may not.

When you are asked to do something you don’t have the time, talent, or resources to accomplish, rather than saying “No way! No how!” thank them for thinking of you and for giving you the opportunity, explain the reason you must decline, and if possible steer them to a better option. Leave the encounter with a win-win.

Author Michael Hyatt refers to this as “Saying No for a Better Yes.”

“Every time we say no to something that is not important, we are saying yes to something that is: our work, our relationships, our resources, our margin. How often are you saying no?”

What do you need to say “no” to? How can you say it so both you and the person asking feel better off?

“It’s only by saying “no” that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” ~ Steve Jobs

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