Quotes on Saying No

Over the years, I’ve compiled multiple lists of quotes about performance management, technology, and failure. Lately I’ve been thinking about prioritization and how to deal with the unending requests for my time. As I blogged about last year, I’ve had some luck using Tim Ferriss’ advice on 9 habits we all should stop — although I admit it’s still hard to say ‘no’ to people.

For inspiration, I decided to create a list of quotes on prioritization and saying no:

“What you don’t do determines what you can do.”
Tim Ferriss, author (source)

“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.”
Josh Billings, pen name of humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw (unverified)

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
Warren Buffet, famed investor (source)

“We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’”
Tom Friel, former CEO of Heidrick & Struggles (source)

“The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.”
Tony Blair, politician (source)

And, for even more inspiration, one from Steve Jobs:
“Focusing is about saying no.”

Anyone have any other quotes to add?


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11 Responses to Quotes on Saying No

  1. Holly August 9, 2015 at 1:20 pm #

    “No. Because I said so.” (Moms everywhere)

  2. Allen August 9, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    Great post, as a sales professional the word “no” is something I hear multiple times a day. When reading quotes about saying no, something always comes to my mind. Growing up during the time of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, it’s something that is somewhat engrained into my generation’s psyche. While the intention of the campaign was geared toward the War on Drugs, it’s simple and can be applicable to multiple facets of life.

    “Just say no.”
    – Nancy Reagan

  3. Kevin Jens Cox August 9, 2015 at 2:04 pm #

    Jonathan my friend. I’ve always found the best solution to saying no is to keep the pressure up more on the positive proposals. You may need a vacation sooner than planned if you focus too much on the “no’s”. Miss you guys. http://www.careeraddict.com/17460/the-cost-of-being-negative-at-work

  4. Rob Glickman (@Robissimo) August 10, 2015 at 1:58 am #

    When I became stressed out at the increasing workload in high school, my father used to remind me with the “If you chase two rabbits, both will escape” quote which implicitly speaks to focus and saying ‘no’ to the less important things.
    Kevin: I agree with your point on staying positive vs. focusing on the negative, but that is a different topic IMO

  5. Steve Lentini August 10, 2015 at 6:50 am #

    William Ury said no like this “i wouldn’t be able to say yes to that….here is what I could say yes to?

  6. Darriel Dawne (@DarrielDawne) August 10, 2015 at 4:01 pm #

    “Yes, and……”

  7. Akram H August 10, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

    Disagreed with no philosophy. Leadership is about giving – & “no” does not belong to leadership category. It’s the art of saying no is important.

  8. Patti Fletcher August 17, 2015 at 7:23 pm #

    Great post, Jonathan. Saying “no” has a cultural element that may prohibit some of us from feeling confident that declining an opportunity won’t result in a negative impact. Pardon my sweeping examples, as not all women are the same just as not all men are the same. We women leaders are told by the women who have paved a path ahead of us to always say “yes”. Why? Because we fear that we may close a door that won’t ever open again. The numbers in terms f female representation in the c-suite, board room, and in high-growth entrepreneurship show us that women do not have equal access to power and money that men do. Saying no means we may miss out and it also might not provide the best optics. I have witnessed speculation of weaknesses when women leaders say “no”.

    From a decision-making and value-defining perspective, Carol Gilligan’s seminal research found that women tend toward relational decision-making. This is disruptive in many ways in the current constructs that make up business, politics, and other societal constructs. A “male” leader perspective is allowed to think about what saying no means to the person saying no. Research shows that when women leaders demonstrate any type of “male”behaviorial traits, followers, peers, and executives do not like that female leader. On top of that, when women say “no”, they may not be thinking about the implications to themselves (more time, abiliity to prioritize), instead they think about the impact of saying no on the people, programs, etc. around them. This is a very big challenge at all levels of leadership, particularly in high stakes roles like board and c-suite.


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