Learn To Say No Without Feeling Guilty

Learn to say no without feeling guilty

In this episode of Off The Charts, we’re taking a look at a skill that’s going to help you grow your business in unimaginable ways.

And counter-intuitively, it all starts with saying no.

In the early days of your business, it pays to say yes. Yes to projects and clients you’re not sure will be a good fit… because the only way to learn what you love doing and who you prefer to work with is to try it out.

But as you start to learn more about yourself, your business, and your marketplace… you’ll eventually need to become more selective.

Many times we say yes, because we’re not clear on what a yes will do to other priorities. When you say yes to one thing, it means no for something else.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and while we all want to please everyone and not ruffle any feathers… By saying yes when we really mean no, we just open the door to resentment and poor outcomes down the line.

Learn to say no without feeling guilty

So here are my tips for learning how to say no without feeling guilty:

1. Design your schedule for yourself first, and then fit in your business priorities, and only after that any collaborations or invitations that fit in.

2. Having a plan and schedule helps you say no, but you’ll want to leave yourself some margin for magic. Leave enough space so that if Oprah or Warren Buffett call to hang out, you’ll be able to make it work.

3. Delivering the no: it’s a muscle you’ll need to practice, especially if you’re conditioned to be good like most of us are… Here are some sample scripts that you can use as a starting point.

Saying no in an email:

Let’s say somebody asks to meet you for coffee to pick your brain. You calculate that meeting with someone takes about 4 hours of your time between the scheduling, travel, and interruption to your day.

Your answer could be: “Thanks so much for the invitation. I’m working on a big launch right now, and while I’d love to meet for coffee, the best way to get my brain on your project is to hire me for a consulting session.”

Saying no in person:

You’re at a party and someone asks you to participate in a joint venture project, and you’re not sure if it’s the right fit for your business right now.

Your answer could be: “Ooh, that sounds interesting. I can’t commit to anything without checking with my calendar and my team.”

Trust me, it’s not easy, but saying no without feeling guilty is an important step to having strong boundaries around your work and personal life.

And I haven’t got it all figured out myself, I sometimes still feel guilty saying no… but I’ve also experienced what happens when I say yes to everyone else and get burned out without moving my priorities forward.

Your Turn To Comment!

Now I want to hear from you… what’s your script, trick, or advice for saying no? Do you have a feel-good phrase or mantra that reminds you of your objectives when you’re about to say yes when you really mean no?

Leave a comment below and share it with us!


  1. Llyane @FrenchOnSkype on June 3, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    Hi, Nathalie!
    I usually set a schedule for discussing. I don’t say yes or no when something comes my way – any ad-hoc invitation is usually a blessing in disguise, but with a specific timeline that I’d have to identify first.

    • Nathalie Lussier on June 3, 2015 at 3:33 pm

      That’s a great point Llyane – sometimes it’s a yes but with different timing around it. :)

  2. Ellen M. Gregg on June 3, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    Such a great topic! I used to be a people-pleaser extraordinaire, and say “yes” to pretty much everything that came my way. It was extraordinarily detrimental, and created an atmosphere of expectation that I’d be available to do [the ask] at the drop of that metaphorical hat from those who became frequent request-makers.
    After a whole lot of work around boundaries and self-care, my response to anything that doesn’t feel right at the intuitive level is a succinct, “No, thank you.” Depending on who it is/what it is, I might add, “I appreciate you thinking of me.”
    I don’t offer any excuse, because none is necessary. Admittedly, that drives some people batty. With compassion, I say to that, “That isn’t my problem.”

    • Nathalie Lussier on June 3, 2015 at 3:34 pm

      Love your take on this Ellen! And hello from a recovering people-pleaser, too. :) I think that not giving an excuse is really nice and clean, too!

  3. Stephanie on June 5, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    Thanks for the great post! Definitely something I need to work on. I am a people pleaser and have a bad habit of saying yes when I either don’t have the time/energy which often leads me to resenting the task or person when I’m doing it – this is not good for them or me. Thanks again!

  4. Shan Rees on June 24, 2015 at 7:40 am

    Nathalie – great to address this issue. I have been teaching this for a few decades, particlularly in Assertion Training classes. Here are some tips – remember that it is sometimes necessary to say no to others in order to say ‘yes’ to yourself; remember that you are saying no to the request, not rejecting the person – you may want to say that; request a time frame around the request – how long will it take – and then make a decision.

  5. Camilla on July 2, 2015 at 11:00 am

    Love this blog Natalie:-)

  6. Katie on August 1, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    This topic is so huge for the success of a business – or even knowing when to say no/yes – and you are right, having a plan would help you to say no because you can believe in your ‘no’ so much more convincingly.

    Discussion point – I find your ‘no’ for ‘no in person’ not really strong enough as that open response keeps people coming back to bug you… It has to be a clear but polite ‘No’ (like unwanted male attention too!). You have to be brave and I need to practise for sure. Thanks for the tips.

  7. Carlos Mendez on December 17, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Very enlightening article, I feel that I have to say no to some things, I will put into practice the tips in this article. Once again, thank you for content.

  8. Cynthia McIntyre on January 26, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    Sometimes I feel pressured or cornered I find myself saying “yes” when I really should have said “no”. This usually happens when I did not expect to be asked so I am caught off guard. Now I remind myself that when I have these feelings of being pressured, I say “I have to get back with you” and do not give them a yes or no at the time.
    Thanks again for a great article!!!

  9. Michael Noker on December 1, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    The biggest thing that helped me was along the lines of realizing that saying yes meant saying no to something else – often at my own expense. Starting my own business meant I suddenly had a very full schedule and almost no time to take care of the things that really need to get done.

    (And since not getting those things done means homelessness and failure, that’s kind of a priority!)

    I stopped taking on random unpaid projects, which was huge for me. I would love to help. I really would. But I can’t pay bills with nice feelings and a sense of accomplishment. I pay bills with sales and income. Suddenly, saying no became super simple.