How many times have you said “Yes” to some request when every fiber in your being was screaming “NO, say NO!”

Yet, despite the volume of our inner voice, somehow “Yes” squeaks out.

Lots of times, eh? Yes, me too. There’s a verse about that, you know: “ But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’ (Matt. 5:37).

So how do we get better at ensuring our “Yes” actually means “Yes,” and how do we develop the skill and strength to just say “No” when that’s what we want to say and should say?

One of the main points in The Essentialist, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, is learning the vital leadership skill of saying “No.” In our hyper-connected age, we have so many opportunities to do so many things, and so many invites, questions, and requests coming at us from so many sources, that we can spend our lives saying yes to everything and yet getting nothing really worthwhile done. McKweon says:

The point is to say no to the nonessentials so we can say yes to the things that really matter. It is to say no— frequently and  gracefully— to everything but what is truly vital.

But how to do that? Assuming we’ve got clarity on what is truly vital, how do we say no to the nonessentials?

Author Greg Mckeown says that like all abilities, saying “No” is difficult at first but we can grow more skillful at it with practice. He helpfully lists a “Repertoire of No’s” we can pick from and eventually master so that “we can handle almost any request from almost anybody with grace and dignity.”

1. The awkward pause: When a request comes to you, pause, count to three, and let the awkward silence do its own work.

2. The soft “no” (or the “no but”). “I can’t just now because of this project, but if you contact me again in a few weeks/months…”

3. “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” Instead of rushing into a “yes” this gives you time to pause, reflect, and reply in a self-controlled manner.

4. Use e-mail bouncebacks. Use email autoresponses to gain extra time to think and decide in an objective way.

5. Say, “Yes. What should I deprioritize?” When saying yes is going to compromise your ability to make the highest level of contribution.

6. Say it with humor. For example, “I’ll do it, but only if you can supply the caffeine pills and Monster Energy cans.”

7. Use the words “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.” While conceding that you will do something smaller, you are also clearly communicating what you will not do.

8. “I can’t do it, but X might be interested.” Not just a stonewall, but offers another door to knock on.

To further motivate more “No’s in your life, think on these three quotes:

People are effective because they say “No.” – Peter Drucker

Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough. – Josh Billings.

“No” is a complete sentence – Anne Lamott.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown.