top of page

How to Say “NO” Without Damaging Your Influence | The Productive Leader


“No” is not a bad word, but it surely does feel that way sometimes when you have to use that two-letter phrase. In fact, the word “no” can sometimes have a uniquely overwhelming effect on the person saying it. But it doesn’t have to be that way, especially if you know how to say it well. There’s an art to saying no without losing influence. Stay tuned, and I’ll share with you some of the things I’ve learned about saying no.

In most churches, the teams that support the mission of the church are small. If one person decides to leave the team, it can drastically affect the team’s ability. Because of this, we’re tempted as leaders to not say no to a request even when we really want to or need to say no. When we say yes, even when the answer should be no, we usually end up working ourselves longer and harder to figure out a way to accomplish the goal. That’s okay occasionally when it’s REALLY needed, but if saying yes when we really should say no happens all the time, it can negatively impact our leadership or even lead to burnout.

Now, I want you to admit something with me. I need you to really do this. I want you to talk to your phone or your computer screen right now, and I want you to admit, “I can’t do it all.” Say that with me, “I can’t do it all.” Doesn’t that feel good? Just to admit that you’re not superhuman? There’s no way that you and I can do everything that is asked or needed of us. We just can’t. It’s not humanly possible. So, we have to say no to some things. But how do you say no without losing your influence with those you’re leading? I’m going to give you a few things that have worked for me.

Step 1. Acknowledge that you understand the need that the other person has.

Acknowledging and understanding another person’s need is called empathy — It’s when you “get” them. You understand that they have a need or a deficiency, and that the need is leaving a gap that’s a little uncomfortable. Tuning in to what people are feeling on the inside is many times all they need. This is a key relational component that is extremely powerful in connecting with others and making them feel loved and accepted in the moment. Don’t overlook the power of empathy.

Step 2. Deliver the truth.

You can deliver the truth by saying something like, “I would love to meet with you, but I am unavailable now,” or, “I would love to be able to do that (whatever) for you, but it’s just not possible for me right now.” Then give them the real reason that you cannot meet with them or do the thing they are asking of you. You don’t have to share all the details, but if your schedule is too full, it’s just too full.

Sometimes I must tell people, “I’m so sorry, but my schedule is literally full for the next two weeks. I will be glad to schedule you in a few weeks, or I can try to refer you to someone who may be able to get to you sooner.” I don’t like doing that. I want to help everyone. This is so hard for me, but I must keep reminding myself that I just can’t do it all.

Why don’t you say that with me again? “I can’t do it all.”

Step 3. Stick to your “no.”

If the individual does not respect your limits and they continue to persist with some story of overwhelm, it’s going to be so tempting to cave to the desire to help them. If you cave to that desire, your margin, maybe even your health if you do it too much, will suffer. As hard as it may be, it’s so important to stick to your “no.” Try to refer the person again to another individual that can help to ease their disappointment.

Step 4. Give affirmation.

When you go the extra mile to affirm the person you are saying no to, they'll see that you aren’t just being mean to them or trying to avoid them. Affirmation will speak to the judge within them while perhaps making it a little easier for them to accept your limits.

An example of affirmation could sound something like, “I want you to know that I love and appreciate you. You're a tremendous asset to this team or this church. Thank you for understanding that I can’t take on any more this week.”

In the end, there will be some individuals who still don’t respond well to your no. At this point, you must be willing to accept the consequences of the no. You must face the fact that a relationship without limits is no relationship at all. The healthy people in your life will learn to respect your no, and you will all become a better team because of it. You'll have more margin and more time and energy to do the important things the Lord desires you to do. Learn to embrace your limits by exercising the word “no” when it’s needed.

I’ll leave you with a few questions to ponder:

  1. What relationships in your life seem to be invading your limits?

  2. What’s one step you can take this week to say “no” without damaging your influence?

Copyright © 2021 Ryan Franklin. All rights reserved.


bottom of page