I’ve been working pretty much non-stop on this for a couple years now.

I’ve written about how stuckified I can get with saying NO. And composed so many Very Personal Ads asking for help finding that elusive, gracious NO.

Because that’s what I want:

To be able to give a gracious, sweet NO.

A NO that has kindness in it.

A clear, firm, loving, sovereign NO.

Anyway, I’ve recently gotten way better at it.

So here are a bunch of not very organized thoughts.

Note: this is all stuff that has worked for me.

I’m trying to isolate principles instead of giving you something prescriptive, but make it work for you. Take what appeals to you and throw the rest away.

–> One more thing. I’m sticking to business-related stuff here because that’s 99% of the things people ask me for, but you can extrapolate to other situations as well.


The saying of the No. It is so fraught.

Not for everyone, because people vary — but for a lot of us.

It’s not like we learn how to do this in kindergarten. So the agonizing over but whyyyyyyyyy can’t I do this is not really all that relevant. If it’s hard, it’s hard.

Forgivable. Human.

The thing I never say.

This is a cheesy-sounding piece of advice that works like you would not believe. The number one thing I do is to avoid the word “but” at all costs.

Everything goes better without that “but”.

As soon as you say “Thanks for asking but …”, everything after the BUT is just [perceived] rejection rejection rejection.

The thing I always include.

I sincerely wish them luck with their thing.

Because I really do hope people will connect with whoever they need to connect with, even if I don’t happen to want to be a part of it.

“I won’t be able to join you for your event — I wish you lots of success with it, and hope you get all the right people for it.”

“This isn’t something I have the capacity for. I’m hoping that you enjoy every minute of it and that it’s a wonderful experience.”

The sequencing.

Generally my NOs are composed of the following elements, in the following order.

  1. appreciation for being asked (“how sweet of you to think of me”)
  2. a clear no (“this isn’t going to work for me” or “I won’t be able to participate”)
  3. wishes for their success (good for them for wanting to make something happen)

You can skip that last one if what they’re doing seems evil or gross. Though really, if the ask is that unappealing, you could just ignore it.


Oh how I love systems.

For example, I don’t do email, which means that my First Mate says the NO for me. Ahhhhhh, distance.

Part of that system is the criteria I’ve given for what kinds of things I’m excited about. Anything else gets a gracious NO.

Another useful system is having some FAQs. Or a policy page about what kinds of things you are interested in saying yes to.

These are things you can casually point people to in your NO.

“I don’t know if I’ve shared my systems page with you before — here’s where you’ll find my general guidelines for the kinds of projects I’m taking on right now. Again, so much luck with what you’re doing and all my best.”

Giving the kind of NO you want to receive.

This is my variation on what Paul Grilley (featured in my non-sucky yoga package) says in his yoga teacher trainings:

“Be the kind of student you want to teach.”

Asking is hard enough. Getting a NO makes it all that more painful.

Yeah, I know that the ask is the first win and that it’s a useful skill and that the NO doesn’t say anything about you. But it’s still hard to hear.

And I still remember every single “but what you do is not a good fit for us” that I’ve ever gotten.*

* The best part of biggification is that once you biggify enough for your people to find you, there’s no need to run around asking people to care about your thing.

Honestly, If I’m going to ask for something, I’d always really rather receive a loving, gracious NO. So that’s what I try to give.

Sometimes this is really challenging.

I probably feel so strongly about giving the gracious NO — maybe a little too strongly — because of all the times I’ve screwed this one up.

So many times that I have not been even slightly gracious or loving.

Especially when people ask for things that annoy me. Especially since I already have to say no to so many things. Especially since some pitches are so disastrously off-base.

I know they’re not trying to annoy me. They just don’t get what’s important to me.

And I know I’ll make my own mistakes as someone who asks.

So my practice is to try to get better at the NO that is kind and patient, while still establishing clear boundaries.

There’s way more stuff I want to say.

About being gracious with yourself.

About making room for not-having-to-do-things.

About how I make decisions.

But I’m still processing lots of things about what gracious is all about. And how it interacts with clear, firm, loving and sovereign .

So I’ll stop here.

And … comment zen for today.

We all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff. It’s a practice. We try to remember that people vary. We try to notice where our stuff is coming up and not get it mixed up with other people’s stuff. That’s it. Big love.

The Fluent Self