23 Ways to Say No!

As a leader, saying NO is an important part of growing your team and helping them learn and understand the Power of No! I have been guilty in the past of using that powerful word, but have learned as a leader that using alternatives to no are significantly more powerful! Let’s explore.

If you search the web, there are many articles to help you get over using the no term and be more respected. I will share a couple of stories from my past, that will help you see why I am highly qualified to provide this guidance to you!

My favorite “NO” story

I was in my first VP role, and the CEO held daily meetings to review all sales opportunities over a certain dollar amount, be it proposals or discount discussions during negotiations. As the Account Managers would attend and present, the CEO would always ask an army of questions to understand who the customer was, the competitors, their pricing, our position in the account, and more. As the business unit leader, I was in these meetings to ensure margins could be maintained as discounts were handed out. I almost always knew about the deal, had done my homework, knew where the meeting would go and was fully prepped.

We’ll call the CEO Chuck. Chuck would always ask me my opinion, which would pretty much be “NO” – no way, not going to do it, not going to change the roadmap to deliver that feature, no no no, etc. I was so good, I earned the nickname “The No Man” from Chuck. He loved the pushback, but the sales team did not. I did not realize how much I really upset the sales team until later because I enjoyed making them squirm in their seats during these meetings. I learned after I left the company, that Chuck would ask my replacement, “what would the no man say?” Of course, I loved this!

My second favorite “No” story

One more story, a few years later, was again with sales. A much smaller company, the Sales VP who was my peer, one day said, “Bill, why do you always say no to every request from my team?” I was operating using the same thought process as my Chuck meetings, but there was no Chuck here. After we discussed my behavior at length, I began my personal changes of how to say no. It helped my career moving forward. I did make a handful of mistakes as future Bill, but I was able to find a much more effective way to respond.

We are going to list 23 ways you can say no, including the ways you should not practice if possible, but I am sure this will help you gain respect for your response and ultimate behavior as a leader.

Consider these CEO Tips because they are good ideas to build into your company culture. There are times you just have to say no, but it’s best to provide an alternative.

Saying “NO” is an Art

It does not come naturally, because most of our parents brought us up saying “Don’t do that”, “No, you can’t have that!”, and so on even if we asked “why” 20 times! Hopefully, you have figured out some ways to say “no” in your business world, but here are 23 ways to say no. They are generic in some ways, so you will have to customize them for your environment, but I hope you enjoy and can adapt to your leadership style.

  1. “Send me some background information, and I’ll take a look at your idea!”
  2. “That’s interesting, can you share your perspective on why this can work?”
  3. “That’s a great suggestion, I’ll sleep on it and think about it and we can discuss next week.”
  4. “Great idea, I’ll add it to my list for our next planning meeting.”
  5. “I love your out-of-the-box thinking, but that’s not going to work out this quarter, but we can come back to it later.”
  6. “Hmmm, we don’t have the budget to do that now, but do some research, get an idea of time, resources, and budget, and we can discuss after you finish that.”
  7. “Can you put a deck together, include market data, opportunity size, scope, and get up some time on my calendar by the end of the month and we can review your ideas.”
  8. “Have you considered your idea versus these other projects we already are working on?” Let’s discuss this further after you do that research.
  9. “Are you kidding me? Tell me more!”
  10. “I regret to decline your suggestion this time, but let’s revisit in our next planning session or our next scheduled one-on-one.”
  11. “Can you draw this out on my whiteboard? I need to visualize your idea better.”
  12. “If we were to do that project, how will it impact sales/existing products/training/service?” – whichever applies to the suggestion.
  13. “Have you discussed this with anyone else, and if so what was their feedback?”
  14. “Keep asking, remind me next month and we’ll take a look at it.”
  15. “I don’t think this idea fits with our culture, why do you think it does, and how will it benefit us/customers/revenues?”
  16. “If we cut the pricing, and it cuts into our bonus pool, are you still interested in pursuing this idea?
  17. “I am not a big fan of the idea, but if you did do this project, can you still deliver on your current project?”
  18. “Let me suggest you discuss this idea with other stakeholders then get back to me.”
  19. “No thank you, I don’t think it is the right time.”
  20. “Do you think this will work? Can you provide more detail please?”
  21. “I regret to say, we have no bandwidth to look at this until the next planning cycle.”
  22. “I hear you, but sorry to say it is unlikely to happen anytime soon!”
  23. Last resort: “No we are not going to do this. It’s out of budget, not in our plan, not aligned with our core values, etc.”

Keep in mind that when you are responding to your employee/team member’s request, they simply want you to listen. Listen and learn, pay attention and take the time, ask questions. You will gain respect from your employees, word will travel that you listen and you will be respected.

Another past learning is your never really know where the best ideas come from! They can come from outsiders, from a different team member, from a spouse or significant other, or just about anywhere. So before you outright say no, no way, not on my watch, never going to happen. or take a hike, listen and learn. Respond with finesse and respect.


All CEOs experience situations that require responses such as those above. There is no possible way to do everything people ask or suggest. Develop a culture that allows for suggestions, ideas to flow and be considered and it may make your job easier.

To learn more about CEO behaviors, this CEO Insights blog has some powerful CEO tips, some from guest CEOs, and the rest from me, the author of the award-winning “The Rookie CEO, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up!” where you can learn more about behaviors that are successful or that fall short as well as how your background, philosophies, and leadership style creates the corporate culture of your company.

Thank you for stopping by the CEO Insights blog, and I hope you return soon! 

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One thought on “CEO Tip: 23 Ways to Say No!

  1. This is the great way to start a new day and for all those who want to start their career with a new energy.When moving abroad it becomes a essential part of life to learn to say no. For more information on how to select university for studying abroad You can get your transcripts from Worldwide Transcripts.

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