Episode 86

How to Say No When Everyone Else Wants Yes

Published on: 6th November, 2023

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In this episode...

How to Say No When Everyone Else Wants Yes


Getting ahead at work isn’t always about being a yes (wo)man. Episode 86 of Faithful on the Clock outlines the importance of saying no and explains how to do it in a positive way.


[00:04] - Intro

[00:45] - Most people have instances where they need to say no to others. This skill is essential, even when there might be good reasons to say yes.

[01:34] - No is important because it serves as a boundary word. It keeps people from carrying what they shouldn’t and defines where one person stops and another begins. This definition of the self is important in leadership because it allows you to withstand challenges and build trust.

[03:04] - Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life is an excellent book to learn more about effective boundary setting that can serve God. The authors explain how good boundaries function like a strong fence with a gate. If you build this type of fence, it is just as healthy for others as it is for you.

[05:20] - John 14:14 must not be misunderstood to mean that God cannot say no. He can and does. Like Jesus’ prayer in Gesthemane, what we ask for must be aligned with His will.

[07:00] - People have two big worries about saying no: They worry that the other person will think badly of them for being a troublemaker, and they worry that saying no will create problems they won’t be able to overcome.

[08:10] - Tactic #1: Offer a rationale for your no to prevent the other person from taking your answer too personally. Paul stressed the rationality of his argument when on trial.

[09:17] - Tactic #2: Tell the other person what you need to make your no a yes. This tactic is helpful for teaching others what’s helpful or satisfying to you.

[10:27] - Tactic #3 - Present a choice between two options. Emphasize what you CAN do as you present the choices. This tactic is excellent for helping the other person learn to prioritize and take accountability.

[12:22] - Tactic #4 - Provide an alternative rather than a choice. This tactic allows you to both enforce your boundary and advocate for others who are capable.

[13:43] - Tactic #5 - Identify the specific commands or characteristics of God you’re upholding by saying no. This tactic helps give you conviction to continue with your refusal because you know with certainty you are working within God’s values.

[15:13] - Being a Christian is difficult. If you must, choose God and continue your no, rather than continuing in a job or other place where you would have to deny Him. 

[16:35] - Prayer

[17:09] - Outro/What’s coming up next

Key takeaways:

  • Most of us have been in situations where we wanted to say no but felt like we couldn’t. But no is a valuable boundary word. It helps people be authentic, loving, and accountable, and it outlines where one person stops and another begins. That helps you as a Christian and more generally as a leader because it enables you to stand with a powerful backbone.
  • The book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend describes the importance of boundaries and how to fix them from a biblical perspective. The authors describe healthy boundaries as a fence with a gate. When functioning properly, boundaries keep the bad out and the good in.
  • We must not misinterpret John 14:14 to mean God cannot say no. He even denied Jesus when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, because His plan to save us required Jesus to go to the cross. But Jesus submitted in His prayer to the will of the Father, and so too, must we.
  • People struggle to say no because they don’t want others to think badly of them and because they don’t want to endure the potential negative consequences that saying no could bring.
  • Tactic #1 — Provide a clear rationale. This will help people to take your no less personally and keep them from seeing it as a power struggle.
  • Tactic #2 — Tell the other person what you need to make your no a yes. This helps teach them about what is satisfying or helpful to you, which supports a stronger relationship.
  • Tactic #3 — Present a choice. When people can choose, their sense of autonomy stays strong. Focus on what you reasonably and rationally can do, rather than presenting your no as just shooting the other person down. It’s helpful here to have the other person look at your schedule to help set the priorities from among the choices.
  • Tactic #4 — Present an alternative. You might be able to use this tactic to serve as an advocate for someone else.
  • Tactic #5 — Clearly identify the commands or characteristics of God that you’re upholding by saying no. The more sure you are that you’re upholding what He wants, the easier it is to take confidence in the fact He’ll support you through your no.
  • Trust that even if your no gets you into some trouble, God will pull you out of it. Remember — there’s no job worth denying Him for.


  • Choose one of the strategies outlined to practice through the upcoming week.
  • Identify what onramps or hurdles each tactic presents for you. For example, perhaps you do not feel like you’re good at making rational arguments or that your work situation doesn’t present many good choices.

What’s coming up next:

As writers, artists, actors, and other professionals assert their relevance against AI, Episode 87 of Faithful on the Clock uses a biblical perspective to explain how companies should apply the technology in their creative pursuits.

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Hey, there, everybody. You’re listening to Faithful on the Clock, the podcast where every cherry on top of the sundae shimmers to get your faith and work aligned. I’m your host, Wanda Thibodeaux, and thank you so much for taking the time to join me today — I’m truly honored to have you listening. Today’s show is one that I think is going to help you in a very practical, everyday way, and I hope it’s going to empower you to do some great things. We’re talking about saying no, people. Let’s learn why we have to say it even when it’s hard, how it can help you get ahead, and how it can strengthen your faith to do good works. Aaaaaaand….let’s go!


So raise your hand if you’ve ever had somebody ask or tell you to do something you didn’t really wanna do. Maybe your mother-in-law wants to come over for dinner and have some one-on-one attention when you’re already swamped with the kids and chores. Or maybe your coworker asks if you can pick up a shift when you know they’re just hungover from going to the bar the night before. Or maybe your boss says you have to push something through into production even though you know you don’t have the data that proves value to the customer yet. Now, in each of those situations, you know, there can be a good reason to say yes. I mean, you don’t wanna make your mother-in-law upset, right? You don’t want your coworker to lose their job or, you know, in the production example, for the boss to let you go. But saying no is one of the most important skills you can learn for your personal and professional life, and I wanna show you why.


So to really understand why you should learn to say no, you have to understand that no is really just a boundary word. And what makes boundaries so valuable is that they keep everybody loving, accountable, and authentic in the way that they should be. We don’t get people carrying what they shouldn’t carry and getting stuck because other people are interfering with who God made them to be. So the word no, it clarifies not only what people believe in, you know, what their values are, but also where one person stops and another begins. And that’s really important as a Christ follower because it’s having a really clear understanding of your beliefs and who you are that’s going to allow you to withstand challenges from other people. You know, having a backbone, that’s a big plus in leadership, right? People don’t want someone who’s going to change or be a pushover on a whim, because that’s not trustworthy. The people who do want the pushovers, those are the people who need to learn to take responsibility and handle consequences for themselves. Sometimes they just haven’t learned how to do that, and they can learn over time, but then sometimes, you do get your narcissists who genuinely struggle to feel any kind of remorse or guilt for violating the boundaries other people have, even when they know what they’ve done. And I mention that because you have to deal with those types of people differently, OK? Narcissists thrive off of attention, so often the best way to tell them no is just be direct and then go on about your normal business without letting them force drama onto you.


Now, before I get into how to say no in an effective way, I wanna refer you to an excellent book that I think really can give you some deeper insights on this whole topic. And appropriately enough, the title of the book is Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. And that book is by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. I think it’s sold something like 4 million copies now or something like that. It’s a classic. And I’m not getting anything for this endorsement, but what makes this book such a fantastic read is that it is not just your basic relationship or psychology book. Everything the authors say is written with a scriptural context behind it, OK? And they really do an amazing job of outlining how boundaries can get messed up and how to fix them from a biblical perspective. But one of the key ideas they have in the book is that the function of a healthy boundary is to be like a strong fence with a gate in it. And the purpose of the fence is to keep the bad stuff out and the good stuff in. But we need the gate because sometimes, things aren’t where they need to be. You know, maybe you’ve suffered in life, you might have a lot of negative things, a lot of negative self-talk or beliefs about yourself, and you just keep all that inside and have pain all the time. Or maybe you’re a good person, your life is good, but you know, you’re really not sharing the positive light you have with the world. So if we have too much good or bad inside of us, we have to let that out and then bring in what we need. It’s when we have that strong fence and the gate is working the way it should that we can interact with each other and support each other to get some joy out of life. That’s what’s gonna help us love ourselves and our neighbor the way God called us to do in Mark 12:31. So the big thing I want you to understand within that is that drawing a boundary by saying no is not just healthy for you. It is healthy for the other person, too, because by drawing that boundary, you are teaching them not to abuse others or to not be codependent anymore. So do not feel guilty for drawing a line, because they need to be able to function well just like you do. You’re doing a loving thing by helping them become more responsible, accountable, and authentic.


So, thinking about all that, I want to bring up John 14:14, which says, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” And a lot of people, they interpret this verse to basically mean that God can’t say no to us. And I want to shut that down right now, OK? God says no to us all the time. I mean, did you know He even said no to Jesus? Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane to let His cup of suffering pass. And God didn’t let Jesus get out of going to the cross. He said no to Jesus on that. But I want you to look at the second half of Jesus’ prayer. Jesus says, “not my will, but your will.” He accepted that if what He asked for wasn’t what God wanted, He’d submit to God’s authority. And so the key is to understand that when God says no, it’s for our own good. It’s because He’s got bigger and better plans. You know, little kids, they ask for cookies. We don’t get mad at the parents for giving them yogurt instead. But as God’s kids, we have trouble understanding why God keeps handing us a yogurt cup. We’re like, but God, this isn’t what I asked for. And then we get angry that God’s not delivering. And I bring that up because when we say no to other people, it has to be for the same reason God says no to us. It has to be out of love and protection, not a desire just to go on a power trip. And in the same way, when people tell us no, we shouldn’t automatically assume they’re not on our side.


So, how can you say no? As you might know from those examples at the top of the show, sometimes there’s a ton of pressure to say yes, and you might not always be the boss. You know, sometimes you are not the person who has the majority of power, especially if you’re just starting in your career or are new to the business. And I think the biggest worry — well, I think people have two big worries about saying no. The first worry is that the other person is going to think badly of them, you know, that the other person is going to reject them for causing conflict and being a quote unquote “troublemaker.” And second, they worry that they’ll create logistical problems that’ll either hold them back from their goals or that are genuinely dangerous. Like I said, you lose your job, how are you gonna pay rent? And that’s so tied up to our sense of identity, because we tie our jobs to who we are. So if we say no and things fall apart, we can feel like a total failure, like we’ve messed up so badly that we’re worthless. But these techniques are designed to kind of diffuse the heat that saying no can create, OK? So, in that sense, I think they can lessen some of the anxiety you might have about putting your foot down.


So the first thing I think is critical when you tell someone no is that you provide a rationale. Because so often what happens is that people take no personally. They take it like you’re trying to do a power grab or say they don’t matter. So if you very calmly and logically explain how you arrived at your decision, or what you considered and why you struggled to say yes, that’s going to help them understand that your response is not vengeful or entirely selfish. The more data you can use to back up what you say here, the better. We can think here of Paul, when the Jewish leaders were plotting against him and put him on trial, Paul lays out his whole experience and why he converted to serve Jesus. And Festus yelled at him that he was out of his mind. But in Acts 25:25, Paul shoots back and he says, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.” Another good verse to remember with this tactic is 1 Corinthians 14:20, which says, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil but in your thinking be mature.”


Now, the second tip, which connects to the first here, is tell the other person what you would need to make your no a yes. So, maybe your boss asks you to do a 10-page report by tomorrow. And maybe you can do it, but you know, it’s not all that convenient, you’re gonna have to work hard, you know you’re gonna be tired. Well, maybe you can say, “Well, this is going to make it so I have to stay pretty late. I’d be happy to do that if I can come in a few hours later the next day.” So in that example, you’re trying to negotiate a little bit in a respectful way. You’re not dismissing them, but you’re also not just saying, “Your wish is my command.” But it could be, maybe you’ve made promises to friends or your family for that evening. So, you could also say, incorporating that first tip, “Hey, I’m sorry, I promised my family we’d go to dinner or whatever, and I want them to see I’ve got some integrity with my promises. Next time, could you give me two days of advance notice? Then I’m happy to help out and can do my best work for you.” And what I like about this tactic is that you are teaching them what’s helpful or satisfying to you, which is important if they want to have a good, reciprocal relationship where you look out for each other.


And this leads into the third tip, which is to present a choice. And this is a very well-known strategy psychologists recommend for parents to use with kids all the time. So, if your boss asks you to do a 10-page report, you say something like, “OK, I understand you need a 10-page report, but I also have these other tasks you’ve assigned. Which one do you want me to spend time on?” And what this approach does is, and it’s a little sneaky, but it lets the other person feel like they have the power over what you’re doing. They get to decide whether you’ll do the report or the other jobs. And in a way, that’s actually a really good position to put them in, because you’re directing them to make some priorities in how they delegate. But in reality, you’re saying, I can do either one, but not both. And it might very well be that you have to just come right out and explain that doing both is not logistically possible. You just offer clarity about what’s actually realistic or feasible. But then you put the ball back in their court by letting them decide between two things you CAN do. If you emphasize the CAN, you send the message that you’re willing to help and are trying to see the positive side of things, and it helps them to feel like they have a way forward rather than that you’ve totally just shot down their request. And one little caveat here is, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask your boss to help you look at your schedule to see what finishing everything really is going to look like. Because that gives you time together to get on the same page. Sometimes managers, they don’t even really realize what they’re really demanding of people. But if you ask them to look at your schedule, they have to become more aware of what the commitment really is like, and it helps them to feel skilled and useful if they can work with you to figure it all out.


This leads to tip number four, which is to present an alternative, rather than a choice. So, say you’re not able to do that report. But you know your coworker Joe is looking to prove himself a little, you know he can put it together. You’ve actually got real faith in how competent and skilled he is. So you say to your boss, “I’m not able to do the report, but you know, I’ve seen Joe’s writing and the way he presents, and he’s actually really excellent. I’m sure he’d appreciate the chance to rise to this challenge and show you his skills here.” Now, of course, if Joe is just as swamped as you are, you don’t wanna go around just playing hot potato with the work. In that case, it’s time to be upfront with the boss and be honest about the fact everybody’s overwhelmed. But let’s assume here that Joe has a little more bandwidth than you do and that he really would be grateful for the chance to take on a little more or different responsibility. Well, in this case, then what you’re doing is, you’re not only protecting your own boundary, but you’re also advocating for Joe. You’re helping the boss see that they can handle the harder or more urgent jobs, and then what’s probably gonna happen is that, because you recommended Joe, the boss is gonna see you as an observant team player, and Joe is probably gonna be grateful to you and want to pay it forward. He’s gonna have a little more trust in you because you stuck your neck out a little by recommending him.


So the last tip for saying no, and again, this can tie back to the first tip, but identify the specific commands or characteristics of God you’re upholding by saying no. So, for example, in the report example, if you’ve made a promise to your family, God puts value on following through with what you promise. Numbers 30:2 says, “If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do all that proceeds out of his mouth.” And another good verse in that situation would be Psalm 89:34, which says, “I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips.” And your boss, you know, maybe they don’t agree with your values. Maybe they’ve been taught in one way or another that lying or breaking promises is just part of the corporate game and being successful. But in that case, that’s exactly why they need you to stand firm, because they need a model of what more ethical and godly behavior looks like. And the clearer you are about what you’re defending and why that matters, the easier it’s gonna be to prevent your boss or anybody else from convincing you that walking another path is OK to do. The more convicted you are that your decision has a biblical foundation, the easier it is to put God’s authority behind your refusal and to take confidence in that He’ll be behind you.


So those are my five tactics for saying no. And I just want to wrap up by pointing out and encouraging you, because you know, as I’ve said so many times, it is hard to be a Christian right now. And while I think these strategies are gonna help you say no in ways that don’t ruffle too many feathers, if you get into a situation where you genuinely have to choose between your work and God, and I hope you don’t, but if you do, if you are in a position where saying no is going to get you fired, please, please choose God. Don’t let the world fill you with fear, because there is no job on the face of this planet that is worth denying Him for, OK? And if you end up losing your job for defending what He stands for, He’s not gonna leave you. He’s going to take care of you and put you in a better position, even if it’s hard in the moment for you to understand how He’s gonna provide. And it might very well be that, if nobody at your job is willing to even hear you out, maybe God is bringing you out of a pit of snakes. So I’ll close with 1 Corinthians 15:58, which says, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”


And on that note, let’s pray.

Lord, we know that You’ve told us that if we ask for anything in Your name, if we have a heart first for Your will and serving You, you’ll give us anything we ask for. But Lord, I thank You that, in Your wisdom, you say no when it matters to teach and protect us, that you say no with complete confidence against everything that’s evil. Give us that same confidence so that we can do some good. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.


It’s time for me to sign off, listeners. I’d like to invite you to check out our Youtube page and take a look at all of the cool videos we’ve got posted there. There are weekly challenges, clips and full episodes, and a lot of encouraging videos to motivate you. So just search Faithful on the Clock on Youtube, or you can go to faithfulontheclock.captivate.fm and use the Youtube link at the top of the page. You’ve got two weeks to explore that, and then I’ll be back with an episode on AI. I’ve addressed AI a little bit before on the show, but we’re gonna take it from a little bit different angle, and it’s gonna be all about where AI should sit in the context of creativity, based on a biblical approach. Until then, be blessed.

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Faithful on the Clock
Faithful on the Clock is a podcast meant to get your Christian faith and work aligned. You won’t find mantras or hacks here--just scripture-based insights to help you grow yourself, your company, and your relationship with God. If you want out of the worldly hamster wheel and want to work with purpose, then this is the show for you. Hosted by freelance business writer Wanda Thibodeaux.
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Wanda Thibodeaux

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux is a freelance writer based in Eagan, MN. Since 2006, she has worked with a full range of clients to create website landing pages, product descriptions, articles, professional letters, and other content. She also served as a daily columnist at Inc.com for three years, where she specialized in content on business leadership, psychology, neuroscience, and behavior.

Currently, Thibodeaux accepts clients through her website, Takingdictation.com. She is especially interested in motivational psychology, self-development, and mental health.