The Joseph Group

Learn to Say No

May 31, 2024

To Inspire:

The actor Tom Hanks says when he first hit it big, offers started streaming in, and he quickly learned a valuable lesson. To do the work that he wanted to do, to tell the stories he wanted to tell, he had to learn to say a difficult word: no.

Hanks said in an interview, “Saying yes, then you just work. But saying no means you made the choice of the type of story you wanted to tell and the type of character you want to play.” This idea lead author Justin Bariso to embrace what he calls the Tom Hanks rule:

Every time you say yes to something you don’t really want, you’re actually saying no to the things you do.

It’s easy to say yes to things. It might be a friend asking. You might just get caught up in the moment. You want to be helpful. But if you remember the Tom Hanks rule, you’ll remember every decision has consequences, and that there is only a certain number of hours in the day, days in the week, and weeks in the year.

There is value in saying no, but it can be hard to do in practice. Here are some tips on doing it well.

First, identify your no. Think about your purpose and priorities. Know what is important to your life, and what is not. Think about what means enough that you want to spend your precious time doing it. Once you know what you want to do and what you don’t want to do, you’ll be able to say ‘no’ with more confidence.

Be appreciative. If someone is requesting something of you, it’s almost never an insult. They’re asking for your help because they like you, trust you, or think you have the knowledge and skills to be helpful. So, thank them for asking– but stick with your no.

So no to the request, not the person. Make it clear that you’re declining the invitation, and it has nothing to do with the person asking. Simply being polite and kind can communicate that you’re not rejecting the person.

Be as resolute as they are pushy. The person asking may not give up easily. That’s fine, they can do as they like. But don’t let them push you into a yes. Remain polite and kind but give yourself permission to be as pushy with your ‘no’ as they are with the ask. You can make light of it if you want (“I know you don’t give up easily — but neither do I. I’m getting better at saying no.”)

Be prepared to miss out. Some of us have a hard time saying no because we don’t want to miss anything, and saying no always means you will be missing something. But remind yourself that saying no to this thing opens up the time and energy to saying yes to something more important to you.

As you get better at saying no, recognize that if you’re a person who throughout your life has always said yes – who could “do it all,” beginning to say no means giving up that image you had of yourself. But it is so much more important to conserve your time and energy to focus on the people and things that truly align to your purpose – things that are important to your great life!





Written by Michelle O’Brien, Manager of Marketing & Communications



Sources: Bariso, Justin. How Emotionally Intelligent People Use the Tom Hanks Rule to Get More Out of Work and Life. Inc.com, and Bregman, Peter. Nine Practices to Help You Say No. Harvard Business Review.