The Reflection Pool

The Art of Choosing No

“Find a way to say yes.” Jim Wibberley, a seasoned leader who went on to become a Director of Education, offered that advice to newbie vice principal me in the context of saying yes to staff. I understand and agree with the intent. No one wants to hear a leader say no all the time. There may be times when a “no” is needed, but “no” can be soul crushing for the person putting forward an idea or asking to do something.IMG_2861

Further insight came a bit later in my career. While I can’t remember where I heard it, the phrase “Yes, and…” has stayed with me. Instead of saying, “Yes, but…” say “Yes, and…”   See the difference? It’s a subtle shift that removes the negative and extends possibilities.

Since these experiences, I’ve read Essentialism by Greg McKeown, which I’ve referenced a few times in previous posts. McKeown has moved my thinking about yes versus no. While I need find a way to say yes if possible when colleagues and team members make suggestions, I also need to be able to choose no to guard my time and focus on what is my true purpose and my essential intent. (He has some great suggestions for how to actually do this once you decide you want to.)

I’ve had some success lately. When someone asked me to take on something else in my job, I said, “Well, I would love to, but I just don’t see how I could do justice to it with all that I am working on. Do you have some suggestions for which commitments I could let go?” I also use my calendar a lot of more effectively to help me. If asked to attend a meeting or an event, I don’t say yes and I don’t say no. I let the person know that I will check my calendar and get back to them. And if I have something else on, I say no, regretfully. It’s empowering, and it’s clear.

Photo Credit: Lars Plougmann via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Lars Plougmann via Compfight cc

I’ve got more work to do with choosing no, but I’m getting there.

3 thoughts on “The Art of Choosing No

  1. Sue, I could really connect to this post! I am usually terrible about saying, “no,” but as the end of the year approaches and I realize the bigger things that I’m balancing (ie., packing up and moving schools, finishing Part 4 of my self-regulation course through The MEHRIT Centre, and completing report cards) on top of teaching, I know that I can’t necessarily do “more” and balance it well. I said something along the lines of, “no, regretfully,” in two different situations lately, and while it was hard to do (especially in the case of the involvement of a project that I really wanted to be involved in), I’m glad that I did. I will continue to work on saying, “no,” in certain circumstances: being aware of my time, but also the added stress that a “yes” can sometimes cause.


    1. Thanks for commenting. No can be powerful. I used to warn teachers about “helium hands” at the end of June when signing up for activities. Glad to hear yours are not made of helium!

      1. I like that! I will need to remember the term “helium hands.” 🙂 Not sure that I’ve ever had them, but when asked to do something, I struggle with the “no.” I’m slowly learning to utter the word … especially when it’s needed.


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