How to Say “No” Gracefully and Uncommit (#328)

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“People are effective because they say no.” — Peter Drucker

This episode of The Tim Ferriss Show showcases two chapters from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (@GregoryMcKeown), one of my favorite books of the past few years.

The first chapter explains how to say “no” gracefully (and why most of us have trouble doing this in the first place), and the second one gives us ways to cut our losses and uncommit in the aftermath of a premature “yes.”

This should help you shorten your to-do list and lengthen your not-to-do list.

Enjoy!

Audio excerpted courtesy Penguin Random House Audio from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, read by Greg McKeown.

Want to hear another podcast with lessons for overcoming fear in order to do the right thing?Lend an ear to these nuggets of wisdom from Sir Richard Branson, Maria Sharapova, Vince Vaughn, and Caroline Paul. (Stream below or right-click here to download):


This podcast is brought to you by Four Sigmatic. While I often praise this company’s lion’s mane mushroom coffee for a minimal caffeine wakeup call that lasts, I asked the founders if they could help me—someone who’s struggled with insomnia for decades—sleep. Their answer: Reishi Mushroom Elixir. They made a special batch for me and my listeners that comes without sweetener; you can try it at bedtime with a little honey or nut milk, or you can just add hot water to your single-serving packet and embrace its bitterness like I do.

Try it right now by going to foursigmatic.com/ferriss and using the code Ferriss to get 20 percent off this rare, limited run of Reishi Mushroom Elixir. If you are in the experimental mindset, I do not think you’ll be disappointed.


QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Greg McKeown:

Website | Twitter

SHOW NOTES

  • The right “no” spoken at the right time can change the course of history. [07:30]
  • Have you ever felt a tension between what you felt was right and what someone was pressuring you to do? [09:01]
  • Courage to say “no” is key to the process of elimination and Essentialism, the disciplined pursuit of less. [09:40]
  • As hard as it can be to say “no,” failing to do so can cause us to miss out on something far more important. Here’s a lesson from a noted Essentialist for illustration. [10:23]
  • Stephen R. Covey didn’t just teach Essentialism — he lived it. [13:29]
  • How do we discern the essential from the non-essential? [14:07]
  • Why does saying “no” often feel socially awkward and how does it have the power to cause us physical discomfort? [14:53]
  • The only way out of this trap. [16:00]
  • What a notable “no” from Peter Drucker taught Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about productivity. [16:24]
  • The difference between essentialists and non-essentialists when choosing between saying “yes” and “no.” [17:39]
  • Separate the decision from the relationship. [18:55]
  • Saying “no” gracefully doesn’t have to mean using the word no. [19:32]
  • Focus on the trade-off. [20:11]
  • Remind yourself that everyone is selling something. [20:41]
  • Make your peace with the fact that saying “no” often requires trading popularity for respect. A story about the designer who stood up to Steve Jobs and what happened NeXT. [21:04]
  • Remember that a clear “no” can be more graceful than a vague or noncommital “yes.” [23:20]
  • The “no” repertoire: eight responses to help you say “no” with grace. [23:53]
  • 1. The awkward pause. [24:16]
  • 2. The soft “no” (or the “no, but”). [24:40]
  • 3. “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” [25:17]
  • 4. Use e-mail bouncebacks. [26:05]
  • 5. “Yes. what should I deprioritize?” [26:58]
  • 6. Say it with humor. [28:12]
  • 7. Use the words “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.” [28:32]
  • 8. “I can’t do it, but X might be interested.” [29:14]
  • What the lessons of the Concorde jet and a massive carnival game loss teach us about sunk-cost bias. [31:16]
  • The difference between essentialists and non-essentialists when choosing between staying a losing course or cutting losses. [34:58]
  • Ways to avoid commitment traps. [36:09]
  • Beware of the endowment effect. [36:28]
  • Pretend you don’t own it yet. [38:30]
  • Get over the fear of waste. [39:08]
  • Instead, admit failure to begin success. [40:52]
  • Stop trying to force a fit. (Don’t be Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie.) [41:32]
  • Get a neutral second opinion. [42:38]
  • Be aware of the status quo bias. [43:44]
  • Apply zero-based budgeting. [44:33]
  • Stop making casual commitments. [45:52]
  • From now on, pause before you speak. [46:20]
  • Get over the fear of missing out (FOMO). [46:56]
  • To fight this fear, run a reverse pilot. [47:14]
  • Why learning how to uncommit is crucial to becoming an Essentialist. [49:07]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

Posted on: July 19, 2018.

Please check out Tribe of Mentors, my newest book, which shares short, tactical life advice from 100+ world-class performers. Many of the world's most famous entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, poker players, and artists are part of the book. The tips and strategies in Tribe of Mentors have already changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for a sample chapter and full details. Roughly 90% of the guests have never appeared on my podcast.

Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.

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23 comments on “How to Say “No” Gracefully and Uncommit (#328)

  1. Tim: Lots of negative stuff coming out now in response to the Keto diet; would really be helpful if you had an updated interview with Dom or one of your knowledgeable guests to address some of these concerns. Much thanks.

    Like

  2. Thanks for including me in your selected links, Tim! Essentialism was a life-changing concept for me, and I truly believe everyone can benefit from the book. I especially love the story of Peter Drucker and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. — Kyle @ sloww.co

    Like

  3. Hey Tim,

    This feels essential!

    I love that you are leveraging already made content that is so on point & helping it get out to a broader audience. I have never heard of essentialism until right now & it couldn’t be more timely & helpful.

    More audiobook podcasts from your library of recommendations are a HARD YES for me!

    Thank you,

    Have a great day!

    Manya

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tim, I’m a huge fan of yours, read all your books. I just wanted to thank you for all that you publish and to tell you how much of a positive impact it has had on me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart

    Like

  5. Love the format of this podcast. “Essentialism” is one of my favorite books and the book I gift the most. Would love to hear more podcasts with a similar format. Would be really cool to combine it with an interview with the author to learn the backstory and research that went into each chapter (or the entire book).

    Like

  6. Hi Tim, a Sufi saying to compliment / contradict the quote in your 5 bullet Friday:

    There is the known, the unknown and the unknowable. Through the pursuit of knowledge the unknown becomes known. However the unknowable can never be known, and through seeking it, it is the knower who becomes unknown.

    Like

  7. As a college professor, I’ve found you and much of your content extremely useful and motivational. And by default, my students have also benefited. I am now researching best ways to start and maintain a successful blog/website and podcast. Thanks, Tim.

    Like

  8. Instead of asking, “How will I feel if I miss out on this opportunity?”

    Ask, “I did not have this opportunity, how much would I sacrifice to obtain it?”

    A reminder that we’re all influenced by our human biases. Reframing ones internal questions like this is very helpful!

    Like

  9. “Admit failure to begin success” & “get over the fear of waste” (who knew we had that going on?) & “get over the fear of missing out” (kinda knew I had that)

    Like

  10. Hey Tim,
    You’ve introduced a lot of amazing body hacks for people to change their lives. I’ve never seen anything like that for people still at their growing age. Any hacks or tricks to increase height growth as a teen? Thanks.

    Like

  11. Hey Tim,
    Great podcast. I’ve liked each of the shows i’ve heard so far. Especially the Humans of New York one. I’m at the beginning of my entrepreneurial ventures and was hoping you could help. I’ve had loads of solutions for loads of problems (some were only problems from my perspective) and some have even been solved by others. I saw some commercial for some new product (MTailor if it matters). It was so brilliantly simple that my first thought was “I could have come up with that”. Then I thought, “if this was my idea, how would I get it to work?”. That’s where I pretty much drew a blank. I wouldn’t have been able to hire an app developer (50k USD minimum), or advertising, etc.
    Maybe you’ve already covered the initial phases in a cast i haven’t heard yet. Maybe I’m making this too complicated. And maybe the guidance I’ve sought is making it all too simple. Do you have any advice for those that know what they want or product to be sold (assuming it doesn’t exist) to do but don’t know how to get there?

    Like

  12. I am your average gal who enjoys your books and occasional podcast but I have to say they are a) too long and b) often get way off topic so I stop listening. Just a little feedback

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  13. Tim,
    Thank you for posting this. The excerpt really helped me with a decision about two different paths for the next year.

    I look forward to reading the Greg McKeown Essentailism Book

    Like

  14. Wow. I had a situation that required exactly this advise (avoiding overcommitting), today. Earlier, I was checking Tim’s podcast feed, spotted this episode, and listened to it, and wrote myself a script, which I internalized, and improved it from memory in person. Still a bit painful worrying about letting down the person, and I could tell the person was a bit taken aback, but will find an alternative solution, and I won’t have to deal with a situation that was untenable. Thanks much to Greg for his great wisdom, and to Tim for sharing it.

    Like

  15. Great episode – very captivating. If you’re interested in an alternative perspective to “learning how to say no”, I would recommend checking out the YouTube video “Three Letters Between Success and Stuck by Tyler Waye” (only 2 minutes long). A line from the video that most resonated with me was “Because we have trouble telling the difference between yeses that will force us to grow, versus yeses that are simply about doing more.” Hope you find it inciteful.

    Like