March 22, 2019

SDS SF Recap: How To Say ‘No’ So You Can Say ‘Yes’ To What Matters, with Sara Holtz

Inside Batch. Courtesy of Ashley Gonzalez

By Ashley Gonzalez

Saying “no” is hard. At times, saying it makes me feel awkward, guilty, and even unsympathetic. Whether it comes to things I can’t do or simply don’t want to, saying “no” has always been difficult because I want to be helpful. But I couldn’t believe how easy and relieving saying “no” actually is!

Inside Batch. Courtesy of Ashley Gonzalez

On a rainy February day in San Francisco, Six Degrees gathered at Batch, an aesthetically pleasing modern home goods store, to hear Sara Holtz. Sara is a former business lawyer and senior executive of Fortune 500 companies, who is now a widely recognized expert in helping women lawyers succeed. It’s fair to say she’s got some wisdom to share when it comes to saying “no”.

Why We Say “Yes”

Saying “yes” to something you can’t do can be extremely stressful, especially if you have a busy schedule. And saying “yes” to something you simply don’t want to do, like going on a date or spending time with an old friend, can place you in an uncomfortable situation.

Sara relayed that because we’ve grown up in a society that forces the ‘good girl,’ image upon us, as women “yes” is often our default response. We also tend to say “yes” in some cases because we feel flattered and feel good after being compliant, too. Other times, we simply feel like we can’t say “no”.

Two Things to Know in Order to Say “No”

In order to say “no”, you have to know what your “yes” is. Sara describes our “yes” as something we prioritize. It’s what we are trying to do or achieve. When you say “no” to one thing, you say “yes” to another.

For example, an old friend asks if you’re free. You may not be, but you agree to meet with them anyway. What do you give up from this? Do you give up catching up on work? Rest? What do you gain? A good conversation? A rekindled friendship?

Inside Batch. Courtesy of Ashley Gonzalez.

You also have to stray away from saying “yes” automatically. Think about what the question asks. Sara encouraged us to begin assessing the situation we are put into, then decide. Is it worth it? Do you need more evidence that you’re a good person? If it were tomorrow would you or could you do it? These very simple questions made us reflect on our past decisions.

How to Say “No”

Sara shared a total of three ways to say “no”:

  • The positive way
  • The partial way
  • The plain way

The Positive ‘No’

To say ‘no’ positively, you have to express your gratitude, say “no”, then end on a warm note. This could look something like this:

  • “Thank you for thinking of me, however I already committed to _____.  Thank you again, I hope you find someone who can.“

The Partial ‘No’

If a friend asks if you could speak with them on the phone for an hour or so about a subject, you could say:

  • “No, but I could speak with you for twenty minutes.”
  • “Not now, but how about later?”
  • “No, but a friend of mine is very knowledgeable on the topic, I’m sure she’d be willing to discuss it with you.”

Just Plain ‘No’

Sometimes you don’t have the time or energy to let someone down too easy. In this case you could state:

  • “Thank you, but I have another commitment.”
  • “I just don’t have the time.”
  • “Thank you, but I can’t devote the time that this deserves.”


Remember, you are entitled to say “no” to things that don’t serve your needs. When you say “yes” to things you can’t or don’t want to do, you’re not allowing yourself to respect your priorities or boundaries.

For more career and life advice with the incredible Sara Holtz, check out her podcast site Advice To My Younger Me.

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on whatsapp
six degrees society logo

Members Login