Realistically, Is ‘No’ a Complete Sentence?

October 5, 2021

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“No is a complete sentence.”

We’ve all heard that statement made as a rallying cry to draw boundaries. And I back the general gist of it.

But to say “no,” you have to be comfortable enough saying “no.”

And for most of us, in the scenarios that matter, “no” realistically isn’t a complete sentence.

Let’s say…

You get an email from your boss that says, “Hey – xyz client needs this by Friday. Can you take it on?”

You respond, “No.” And hit send.

I mean… yikes.

Or a friend texts, “Hey! Want to meet up for lunch tomorrow?”

You text back, “No.” Without more.


While I LOVE the sentiment behind the “no is a complete sentence” mantra, it only gets us so far.

Do I think you should say no and stand by it? Yes. And often.

But you won’t do it if you feel super uncomfortable doing it, and using a “no as a complete sentence” approach makes a lot of us pretty uncomfortable in real life. As a result, we do what’s comfortable in the moment – we say yes and just punt the now-magnified discomfort down the road.

How to avoid this:

We’ve got to have phrases in our back pocket that we can use to say no in a way that we’re comfortable with – so that we actually say no (and not yes).

Here are some of mine (and feel free to add yours in the comments):

For work, especially if you can’t really outright decline work, I love the approach: “Sounds like a great opportunity! Given my current commitments, I can get to it in two weeks. Totally fine if you need someone who can help you out sooner.” If you can give a firm no, I’d shift this to, “Sounds like a great project! Given my current commitments and your need for someone to jump on this right away, I, unfortunately, cannot take this on. I wish you all the best in finding someone to help. It really is a great project.”

For friends, I love the “oh that sounds so fun! I can’t make it this time but would love to join next time. Keep me posted / I’ll reach out in a week or two to set something up” response.

Both of these come off as warm (something I’d like to be known for) but are firm.

Saying no is definitely something we should all say. And often.

And you do not need to explain your no, which I think is the main gist of that mantra.

But it’s okay if “no” – standing alone – is not realistic for you.

Just find some go-to phrases that you are comfortable with. And practice them often.

Want help knowing when to say no at work or in your personal life? Check out my free 5-day program, the Reset & Refresh, that’ll help you have a whole new understanding of your capacity, your current workload, and how they interact (and understanding with more objective clarity when your capacity is full). Join me for free here!

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