NO! – The Most Powerful Word In The World

The most powerful word in the world is “NO!”

There’s a bunch of woosie academics that say “Yes” is the most powerful word in our lexicon.  I call bullshit.  “Yes” is a super easy answer to give someone when they ask you something.

But when you answer with a firm “NO!” , you will command respect from those around you.

Here’s a few hypothetical scenarios where most people have a hard time saying “NO!”

After watching you open up a new pack of cigs, a bum asks: “Hey, you got an extra cigarette?”
Your Answer: “NO!”

Your woman asks you: “Hey hunny, can I have some money to go shopping”
Your Answer: “NO!”

After coming to your office to kick the shit, your employee asks: “Yo boss, can I have next Friday off?”
Your answer: “NO!”

One of your not so well-off relatives tells you a long story about how their going to get a new business started and they’ve done all of this groundwork, then turns around and asks: “Hey cousin, would you consider giving me a loan?”
Your Answer: “NO!”

Most people find themselves answering “YES” to requests when they really meant to say “NO.”  Subsequently those people find themselves embittered, resentful, and used.  I can truly empathize with habitual “YES” answerers as I was once in the club.

Over time I discovered that people actually lose respect for you when you answer “YES” all of the time.  Instead of appreciating the wonderful free things you do for them, they take it for granted.  Then when you finally pull out a “NO” those same people get offended.

In order to exercise “NO” properly, you need to create a set of solid boundaries for which to use it.  That way you don’t come across as arbitrary or misanthropic.  For instance, it is unjust to deny a homeless man a cig but give one to his buddy standing next to him, isn’t it?

Here are some of the boundaries I’ve created:

1.  Give raises based on meritocracy. I don’t care if you’re oriental, indian, white or black, if you do a great job working with my group than we’re going to take good care of you.  I know guys in just about every age bracket, race, and size that are superstars worth paying big bucks to.  When someone is crushing it on a campaign, we give them more money.  When someone starts screwing up, I let them know what’s up and give them a chance to redeem themselves.  If they continue to screw up, we blacklist them.

2.  Set the parameters of ventures in stone and then stick by them. i.e.  When I work with clients on a consulting basis, I charge $350 an hour.  If they demand a meeting, I happily oblige at my hourly rate.  If a client tries to pressure me to start taking calls for free, I fire myself.  If I want to go outside of our contract, I advise them of exactly what I’m doing and the limit to it.  That way we avoid any ambiguity or misperceived expectations.  Would you know it that I always get paid for my time and get booked up weeks in advance.  Check out my post on how I do this.

3.  If I am going to help someone out for FREE, I do not expect anything in return. People that help people out for free and expect something in return are almost always disappointed.  I love helping people out altruistically – it makes me feel good about life.  When those I help come back and ask for more, if I feel it’s something I want to do, then I do it.  If not, I simply say “NO!”


One of the most important things to understand about “NO” is that in order for it to be effective you must stick to it.

Having full-custody of my daughter has taught me a lot about life.  When I was first awarded full-custody, I used to oblige to every request my daughter made.  Every week I would make multiple trips to ToysRUs (which is fun except I still can’t convince her to like GIJoes 🙂 ), drive her to parks, take her to movies, etc.  Every time she asked I’d say “YES.”   I was personally thrilled to have the opportunity to spoil her, the only problem was that I started falling behind on work and was getting pretty exhausted.  Like Gordon Gekko said “Parents are the bones with which children sharpen their teeth.”

Eventually I started to say “NO” to some of her requests.  She would then start hysterically crying and I would turn around and give her what she wanted – just so she would stop crying!   RULE #1 For Parents: Don’t Ever Give In To An Ruling Of “NO” Once You’ve Said It.  Just make sure that you are saying “NO” to the right things.

At any rate, I quickly tightened up and started sticking to my guns.  Now if I say “NO” she doesn’t get mad or argue.  Why?  Because my daughter knows that the answer won’t change and arguing with me about it is only going to get her in trouble.

Same philosophy caries over to your employees, customers, etc.  My colleague and friend Hersh Sandhoo says “You have to teach people how you want them to treat you.”  Isn’t that the truth Hersh!

Exercising the word “NO” is not a bad thing when you do it diplomatically.  There’s lots of ways to say “NO” that are firm yet non-offensive.  Here’s how I often express “NO”:

– “No Sir/Ma’am”

– “No We Don’t Offer That”

– “That Is Something That I Don’t Do”

– “No I Don’t Engage In That Part Of The Project”

– “No, Thank You Though”

– “Thank You, However I Will Have To Pass”

Make sure you avoid “door-opening” words.  If you tell someone you “Can’t Do That” they can easily rebut “Sure You Can.”  Instead say, “No Sir, I Don’t Do That.”  Then they might ask “Why Not?”  Simple Answer “I Just Don’t.”

Don’t feel obliged to give people reasons unless they’re legitimately owed one.  If you deny an employee a raise when they’re up for one, it is only just to give them a reason.  If their performance is poor then they need to know it – how else would they ever know how to improve.  If your company is hurting and you can’t afford it, let your employee know his raise was denied based upon things out of his control.

And remember, you hold the power to say “YES” or “NO,” so choose your words carefully.  As the old adage goes, Power Tends To Corrupt, and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.