Don’t Be Afraid to Say ‘No’


Your time and talent are valuable — you shouldn’t be giving them to just anyone. You should reserve your art skills and availability for the people who will most appreciate them, and to do that you need to use one simple-to-spell-but-hard-to-say word:


Now, I know that I can tell you saying “no” to requests from people who don’t properly value your skills or time is essential if you want to build a fulfilling career, and you’ll nod your head in firm agreement.

Heck, I might even get an “Amen!” when I declare that bad clients and business partners cost us more in the long run than they’ll ever net us in dollars and cents.

But none of that makes it easier to say “no” when the time comes.

That’s because when we say “no” most of us are thinking of the negative connotations of saying “no.” We worry that turning down an offer that isn’t the right fit for our work might negatively impact the relationship or cut us off from opportunities in the future.

If you struggle with saying “no,” I recommend focusing on your “yes” instead.

In his book The Power of a Positive No, negotiation expert William Ury explains that every “no” is connected to a “yes,” and if we focus on what we’re saying “yes” to, it is much easier to say “no” when needed.

For instance, that job that doesn’t pay very well but you feel pressured to accept? If you say “no” to the job, you’re saying “yes” to your commitment to only accepting jobs that value your work. Conversely, if you say “yes” to the job, you need to understand and be OK with the fact that you’re saying “no” to your commitment. You can’t say “yes” to both things at the same time.

Through this lens, evaluating offers is much easier because instead of figuring out if it’s OK to say “no,” you can tackle the more positive question: What do I want to say “yes” to?

This isn’t to say that every decision will be cut and dry with a simple “yes” or “no.” Real life is more complex than that, but using Ury’s framework to evaluate offers roots your “no” in something positive. Knowing that you’re embracing something that’s important to you when you say “no” makes it easier to do. Not easy, but definitely easier.

Katie Lane is an attorney and negotiation coach in Portland, Oregon, helping artists and freelancers protect their rights and get paid fairly for the work they do. You can read her blog at and follow her on Twitter: @_katie_lane.