How often have you faced the struggle of saying “no”? More importantly, how confident are you in saying “no?”

This topic emerged from a recent conversation I had with a private business coaching client. She is a photographer and was grappling with burnout, feeling obligated to others, and the inability to manage her time efficiently. She was constantly interrupted and struggled to handle all her projects, leading to persistent stress. Despite this, she found it tough to say “no” when asked for more. This led her to question – how does one confidently say no?

The Fear of Saying “No”

Many of you may think that you can say “no” with confidence,  but is this true for all domains of your life?

Some of you are good at setting boundaries and saying “no” in your personal lives, but in your professional lives, you may tend to agree to everything. This leads to overwork, underpayment, and overwhelming stress…and nobody wants that. 

The key skill to develop is saying “no” professionally and confidently, without being stopped by fear.

The first step is to understand the fear that stops you from saying ‘no’ with confidence.

Are you scared of losing a future opportunity? Or worried about the financial implications? Or perhaps, fear is that saying ‘no’ may reflect on your lack of skills. 

Fear often prevents you from setting clear boundaries and being mindful of where you invest your time, energy, and focus.

To Say ‘No’, Define Your ‘Yes’

Defining what a ‘yes’ looks like for you makes it easier to identify and say ‘no’ with confidence. 

At least two reasons or else its a noFor instance, I consider three parameters before agreeing to a project. 

  • Firstly, is it creatively stimulating? Will it challenge me and help me grow as a creative? 
  • Secondly, does it offer financial fulfillment? 
  • Lastly, does it align with my values? 

For every project, I make sure that there are at least two out of the three. If it isn’t financially lucrative, it needs to be creatively fulfilling and totally align with my values or else it’s a ‘no’.

Having clear criteria helps you confidently say no to projects that don’t meet your ‘yes’ standards.

Set Your ‘No’ Boundaries

Creating clear boundaries will prevent you from being swayed by people’s urgencies, distractions, or interruptions. 

This includes time boundaries, communication boundaries, and environmental boundaries.

Knowing when you are available and when you are locked in to your creative flow or have prioritized something else will help you be more mindful and make it easier to say ‘no’ to interruptions.

The Power of ‘Yes, and…’

Saying no without saying no by saying yes, andThis strategy involves saying ‘no’ without actually saying it. It’s about agreeing and then adding a condition or limitation.

It can be a little bit tricky. It’s saying ‘no’ without really saying no. It’s about saying “yes, and…” instead.

For example:

When someone asks you to do something extra in a project or take on something outside of your boundaries, instead of saying “No, I don’t have time” you can say “Yes, I’d love to. And… let me send you a revision to the scope of the project.”

Or… “Yes, and… how would you like to pay for that extra service?

“ Yes, it sounds like a great project and I’m not currently available and I have a referral or somebody that I can send you to.”

“Yes, and…” is a very powerful way to say no with confidence. 

Practice Saying ‘No’

Like any other skill, saying ‘no’ with confidence will require practice.

It’s important to show compassion to yourself during this journey of learning.

One way to build confidence is to practice it with friends, an accountability partner, or a coach. You could also join our super supportive mastermind community to connect with other freelance creatives.

We all are just practicing our mastery and mastering our practice. 

So, what happens if you say ‘yes’, but then have to go back and say ‘actually, no, I can’t’?

Let’s discuss this in the comments.