Is it really possible to say 'No'?

On 18 September, 2012 in Human Resources by Rosie Overfield

Go to any professional development workshop and chances are you'll be told you need to start saying 'no' more to manage your time. Whilst the principles of 'saying no' are worthy, in reality it is very difficult to say 'no' to your practice team.  However, if you say “yes” when you really mean “no”, resentment and anger can build up towards the person who wants your time.  Moreover, you can become increasingly frustrated and disappointed with yourself. In the working environment, an inability to say ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ can lead to stress, fatigue and burnout.  So how can we assertively manage our time AND maintain a trusting relationship with our team?  Forget about 'no' being the only option for time management. Rather, consider the phrase 'not right now'.  

How to say “not right now”

There are some basic communication and assertiveness principles you can apply when you want to say “not right now” or "I think you are capable of this task". These are:

  1. Be straightforward and honest so that you can make the point effectively
  2. As a rule keep it brief
  3. Acknowledge that the other person does truly need your help
  4. Speak slowly with warmth
  5. Don’t apologise and give elaborate reasons for saying “not right now”. It is your right to say 'not right now' if the situation calls for it.

A three-step process for constructing a ‘not right now’ statement

Sometimes we have the best intentions of helping others; our own priorities must come first. Saying ‘no’ to loved ones and colleagues is tough. Saying ‘not right now’ can be much easier.  When replying to a request for assistance, the acronym ‘A.C.T’ can be useful in communicating your own priorities rather than just ‘no’. 

A.C.T – a three step process for saying ‘not right now’





The verbal acknowledgement of that person’s needs

The current situation/task/priority which prevents you from assisting immediately

The offering of what/when you can assist (telling people when you CAN do, not what you can’t)







“I can see you need my help

…however I have a meeting in 10 minutes

I should be done by 3pm so if you still require assistance then, I’m more than happy to help”

“Wow, that sounds like a big job and I’d definitely like to help you

…I’m just finishing off this urgent task for _______

I’m more than happy to assist you after that”

“I appreciate you telling me your struggling ..

…however I truly believe you are competent at this task

Have one more try using the techniques we discussed, and then if you are absolutely stuck, I'm more than happy to give you a hand"


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