The “naked no”

Ever feel like the demands on your time are just endless?

Please enjoy this important excerpt from The Gift of No!


Compare what I call a “naked no,” a no without an explanation (a simple “I’m not available” or “I can’t make it” for example) with the too much information (TMI) version of the same statement: “I won’t be able to go because I have a fitting for the dress I’m wearing to my brother’s wedding.”

Beautiful someone, in the first case, no means no. Not much to talk about because the naked no doesn’t leave the door open for discussion or give someone information they can use to take down our boundary.

In the TMI version, we’ve practically invited the person to say, “The fitting’s on Thursday? That’s three days away! You have plenty of time to move the appointment and help me instead!” or “Those appointments are easy to change. All you have to do is call them. They’re very flexible!” or “A fitting? That’s why you can’t make it? Seriously?”

So we can say…

TMI: “I’m not sure, but I think I have a hair appointment that I made like two months ago.”


Naked: “I can’t be there” or “Sorry, I have an appointment then.”


TMI: “Any other day, I would. I just can’t today because I need to leave a little bit early to pick up my son at 4.”


Naked: “I’m not able to help with that.”


TMI: “I don’t really like that kind of event. I went to one once and didn’t have a great time. So I’d just rather not, unless this is somehow different from that other time which, as I said, wasn’t great.”


Naked: “I’d rather not, thanks.”


TMI: “If I don’t get back to work in the next 10 minutes, I’ll never finish my report on time. I already had to get an extension on the deadline because of a problem I had when I got back from my LA trip.”


Naked: “I need to get back to work now.”

Aren’t the naked no’s so strong and confident? There’s just zero wiggle room in a clear and simple, “No thanks.” It’s a conclusion. Doesn’t let anyone in on our thought process or give away personal information or hand someone an opening to question our plans, standards, choices, or anything else.

No can just be no

Whether they realize it or not, information-packed reasons, explanations, and excuses are fuel for boundary crashers on the lookout for anything they can use to break apart our no. The more reasons we give, the more of a “conversation” our refusal becomes instead of a conclusion, and the easier it is for them to knock our no right out from under us. Before we know it, there we are, baking the brownies, moving the piano, heading the clean-up committee, or taking on the 16th project.

TMI can also be a sign that we’re insecure about our answer, and we keep talking to try to hide that fact. We believe we can only refuse if a.) we have a solid reason, and b.) the person finds that reason acceptable.

Need to decline an invitation? Change a date? Disagree with someone? We don’t have to provide an explanation anywhere near as often we might think. No can just be no—naked, confident, and crystal clear.

And when someone responds to your naked no with: “Well, if you don’t like my idea, you must have a better one. Tell me!” or “If you can’t go, you must have something more important to do. What is it?” take it in stride by remembering the wise words of my incredible friend Tom who finally realized, as he put it, “I don’t need reasons or a better idea to reject someone’s plan. Not liking theirs is enough.”

Start with thanks

Here’s a great way to avoid sounding blunt or inconsiderate when we use a naked no: start with thanks. When a friend invites you to a party you don’t want to go to, thank them: “Thanks for thinking of me,” followed immediately by a version of the naked no: “…but I can’t make it.”

When a cousin asks if you can squeeze her brand new boyfriend into a table at your wedding two days before the $125-a-plate reception, thank her: “Thanks for asking!” followed by a naked, “but we can’t. Everything’s all set at this point.”

When a coworker wants our help on a project you don’t have time for, thank the person: “Thanks so much for wanting to include me” followed by, “but I don’t have the availability right now,” and then maybe a forward-facing offer: “Let’s work together on something soon, though.”