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The SeamLess Life

Issue # 19 February 1, 1999

About the Author:

Sherry Lowry, MA/MS, M.C.C., is a professional mentor and business coach for executives, business owners, other coaches, psychologists/ therapists, and professionals in transition. She has developed seven businesses, including one non-profit with 20,000 clients. Sherry leads group telephone conferences and trainings with other field experts on marketing with heart, using public speaking in marketing, and for therapists transitioning as coaches. A board member on the International Coach Federation, Sherry is credentialed at their Master Certifed Coach level and participates in the Professional Coaches’ and Mentor’s Association.

Contact Sherry for a complimentary session on The SeamLess Life™ approach or for information on coaching and professional mentoring.

Contact info:
Sherry Lowry, MCC
Austin, Texas USA
Ph: 512-527-0097

Web Site:

Saying The Graceful 'No':
Part II

"If you can't say 'no,' your 'yesses' don't mean a thing."
--Peter Block

By now you're probably a seasoned practitioner of the art of The Graceful "No". You've been practising saying 'no' for 3 weeks, since we introduced it back in our article #18.

If you're having trouble being consistent about it, remind yourself why you say no:

  1. Saying 'no' to trivial requests makes what you say 'yes' to have meaning, both for you and for others who make requests of you.

  2. It lets you set and keep good boundaries, so that you're honoring your commitments to yourself and others.

  3. Finally, saying 'no' wisely creates space and time for you - so that you have the energy to create what you really want for yourself.

Stephen Covey knew this really well. As he said, "It is easy to say No, when there is a greater Yes." Saying 'No' is key to your staying on track, on Purpose.

What We Don't Mean . . .

Now, we're not talking about being one of those people whose first answer to every new idea is "No." You never have to take any chances if you always say "No." We're asking instead that you give yourself the time and freedom to generate new ideas of your own, and to create new ways of being and doing - by saying "no" to others whose requests are just not in your best interest right now.

Here are some more examples of graceful and artful ways to say "No" that you can practice regularly.

About the Author:

Diane Menendez, Ph.D., M.C.C., business and life coach, has been a full-time professional coach since 1988. She's coached 350+ executive and professional clients to achieve their goals and, in the process, to create work and lives which are richly satisfying.

Diane's domain name,, is an expression of her belief that, "Your work supports you to thrive when it brings you rich financial rewards and great joy." Yes, that's what she means -- real joy, enough to make your heart dance.

Contact Diane for a complimentary coaching session to help you discover your brilliance.

Contact info:
HeartDance, Cincinnati, Ohio USA
Ph: (513)474-1137

Web Site:

1. The Dramatic "No."

This one's a favorite, learned from a playwright in New York City who used it with actors asking for roles in his shows. It works best with people who seem to make endless demands of you, with great persistence:

"Gosh, I really wish I could, but it's just . . ." (count silently to four)
     . . . . "impossible." (shake your head, slowly).

That usually does it, especially if you say nothing else. If, however, they ask, "Why?", then do this:

(Open your mouth as if starting to speak, then take a breath, and say,)
"Well, it's . . . .
(count silently to 4, look down, then say, almost under your breath - )
. . . . "just impossible. I wish I could say 'yes,' but I simply cannot."
(Look up at the person at the very end and smile wanly.)

Why does this work? The requestor has nothing to argue with. You haven't lied. And they will fill in the blank with whatever awful thing happened to them that they'd have difficulty talking about, too.

Remember, you don't need to give a reason why you're saying "no." The truth is, it usually isn't their business. Often, they won't hear anything after "no" anyway. We're often just trying to justify our decision to ourselves!

2. If you're asked to do something that goes against your Values or priorities:

  1. Say "No" quickly. If you hesitate, even for a moment, the person making the request will believe there is a chance you will change your mind. Say "No" firmly. Just "No." No reasons.

  2. Make a sincere comment about your commitment to the results you are focused on achieving. E.g., "I must commit all my time to __________. It's what is most important to me right now."

  3. Reaffirm your commitment to the person: "I am saying "No" to your request, and I want you to know how much I value you as a colleague."

  4. If you have time, spend a few minutes brainstorming other options with the person about how to get his/her need taken care of.

3. If you don't have the time now but might want to say 'yes' at some other time:

Say something like, "I'd love to help you with this, but I just don't have the time. Please let me know next time this comes up, and maybe our schedules will be a better match then. . . and I'd like that."

Or, say "I would like to help but I'm already overcommitted. How else might I support you?"

Or, "Sorry, I'm unable to do that."

Or, "I'll have to say no to that, but might I suggest __________?"

In the last case, you've given the person a gift of your creativity, as you suggest another way for them to get their request handled.

4. When you're asked to do something "for free" that you usually charge $ for doing:

You may be one of those people who get asked to speak, to contribute your consulting or services, for free. Sometimes that may work for you. When it doesn't, say something like, this:

"I do pro bono work on a limited basis - and that time has already been committed for this year. Would you like to be put on the waiting list for several years from now? I can do that."

Most people don't plan that far in advance. That means that they're the ones who have to say "No" to your suggestion! (After all, turnabout is fair play!)

5. When someone continues to ask you repeatedly for free advice:

After an ongoing fee-paying relationship is over, you're essentially giving away your services. If you don't want to continue that, we suggest you respond something like this:

"I feel awkward helping you at this point because I feel that I'm being unfair to my paying clients. Let's put together a list of things I can really help you with and see how we can work together."

That usually will end the "for free" requests once and for all.

Do you have a great way you've learned to say A Graceful "No?" We'd love to hear about it. Write to us at and share your successes!

Thanks to our colleagues David Burnet, Vickie Sullivan, Mary Westheimer, Bob Hill, and Madelyn Griffith-Haney for contributing their "graceful no's".

E-Mail us with questions or suggestions.
Sherry can be reached at
Ph: 512-527-0097

Diane and Sherry's book, Discovering Your Best Self Through the Art of Coaching, can be ordered at

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