“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’"

- Matthew, the Apostle

I’ve helped raise six children.  That is a lot of teaching others to quit saying “no”.  Pretty much every child goes through a season of this.  A recent study by Child Development says that the average 2-3 year-old argues with their parents 20-25 times per hour.

Kids this age are realizing that they can assert themselves, and arguing with you is one way they gain confidence.
— John Sargent, MD

Turns out that we don’t only break them of saying “no” during this season, we begin conditioning them to never be comfortable saying it again.  It is no surprise that most of us have a hard time with not agreeing to so many things.  We were taught that “no” was a bad word.  

An article from Psychology Today a couple of years ago, says that there are several primary reasons we aren’t comfortable with this:

  • Fear of conflict
  • Don’t want to disappoint or hurt someone
  • Need for validation

None of those should surprise any of us.  We likely identify with one or all of them.

Matthew seems to call out the hypocrisy of people of faith saying things like “I’ll pray for you” when they don’t really mean it.  I was so guilty of that.  I am now trying to never automatically defer to those kinds of contrivances unless they are heartfelt and I am absolutely committed to follow through.

I am trying to make my yes be my yes.

We were recently talking with several tables of leaders about how clear Jesus was about the one thing he was called to do.  While he healed and spoke truth and life, he was constantly walking past the opportunity to do more “good” so that he could get alone, commune with the Father, and stay focused on the one “great” thing he was supposed to accomplish with his life.

Good is the enemy of great.
— Jim Collins

We spend a lot of time helping leaders get really clear on their personal “why” through our Lifeplan process and help their organizations find the same through our corporate coaching and executive boards.  We helped them determine what their “great” is so that they can say “no” to some of that “good”.  We have learned that leader clarity leads to organizational clarity.

We get them really clear on what they should say “yes” to and then teach them some great tools and processes for learning how to say “no”.  We help them identify the intersection of what they love most, what they are good at, and what makes the highest contribution.

We watched them sit together recently and…

...List everything they’ve said “yes” to.

...Count the time, cost and consequences of every one of them.

...Identify the ones they needed to eliminate.

...Create plans for how and when they will drop each of them.

So much freedom, life, and lightening of loads.  One leader said, “I have been holding on to this responsibility and burden for 7 years and knew I needed to let it go, but I couldn’t until today”.  How great is that?

Learning to say “no” is a crucial muscle that most of us rarely exercise.  It actually takes incredible strength and resolve to not agree to everything.  

For a toddler, it is an act of defiance from everything.  

For an adult, it is an act of defiance from the busyness that overwhelms everyone else around us. 

It is the pathway to freedom and doing what is truly “great” with a life or a company.


  • Are you comfortable saying “no”?  Why or why not?
  • What are the costs and consequences of you not saying “no” to more things?
  • What would it feel like to eliminate some of the busyness and noise of all that “good”?
  • How clear are you on the “great” you are created to fulfill through your life or organization?  What is that costing you?