Why Is This Tiny Word The One We Use Least?

One of my pet peeves on LinkedIn is the Insta Pitch. You connect with someone and immediately you get a canned sales pitch. Then, just as quickly, you regret the connection.

Early on, I would answer back, with a reason why I was not interested in the service “At this time.” Then, I started ignoring as the frequency increased.

Yet, the pitch continued, asking if I didn’t see the email (I did) and doing me the service of “Bumping it up in my in-box.”

Well, thanks.

But lately I have taken another approach. One I wished I was brave enough to adopt years ago. As a person who has made a living rearranging the words in the English language, there is one word I have never used enough. One word that was politely nested among other words, an indirect way of saying something I wished I could just say.

That word was “No.”

Woman holding a clock to cover her face
Woman holding a clock to cover her face

The word is small. The meaning is big, direct, concrete and leaves no doubt in the communication thread. Yet, it is rarely used in business, especially in instances where it would immediately get us to the desired outcome. So, we use other words to help temper. We say things like, “Not sure,” “Not at this time.” “Check back in 3 months.” Instead of being honest with our lack of interest, we push the awkward conversation down the line, and leave the door open for more. And neither path is what you really want.

Even at my own business at Cast Iron LA, we love that word. When my partner and I present creative to clients, if they don’t like an idea, we want to hear it. We welcome “No” as much as we welcome “Yes.” It gets us off the exit and moves us quickly to our next destination.

Children, they get it too. Have a conversation with a kid sometime, and see what I mean. They are filled with many one word answers, especially “No.” And no matter how cool you think you are, all kids want to find the shortest path to the end for any adult conversation.“No” gets them there in record time. So take a page from the Tik Tok crowd, and say what you mean, even if things get awkward.

They will.

Old rotary telephone in black and white
Old rotary telephone in black and white
Photo by Quino Al

Do you want the conversation with the vote canvasser at the grocery store, the kids selling candy bars outside Target, or the telemarketer that called you to last any longer than it has to? How about leaving Costco when you are interrupted about your AC system? Jesus, don’t we all just want to focus on not losing that receipt, and get the hell out?

The same way kids use “No” as a conversation killer with adults, you can do it whenever you want to shut one down as well. “Not at this time,” “I just got a new roof,” or “I’m Canadian” provides a more polite way to let them down, but it also increases the aggravation by leaving the conversation open. And you will need to go through it again in 3 months when the person calls to “check in.”

But “No” takes practice. Because it creates an awkward pause. There is no place for people to go when that is said. You are not an active listener, and those are hard people to pitch. So be one. Even when it gets weird. And while most of us want to be nice, we sometimes craft that to our own detriment. And we get stuck in this conversation loop we’d rather not be a part of instead of being fine with crickets and closure.

And we quickly get out of lame conversations about water heaters. Or air duct cleaning. Or giving money to your alumni fund. Jesus, I am boring myself.

I don’t use the word enough. I wish I did. And you probably don’t either. Because it is hard to say. But lately I have been making a concerted effort to use it. The realtor who asks if I want to sell my cabin?


The new connection who wants to sell me services I don’t need?


The kids with the candy bars.

“No thanks.” (I’m not a monster)

Practice scrabble tiles
Practice scrabble tiles

We should practice saying the word. Because with the power comes social challenges. So try to deliver it neutral and not angry. Forget sugarcoating, just be direct, honest and it will be a long-term benefit for everyone. And of course, add in a nice “Thanks,” when the opportunity presents itself.

“No” is a win/win for everyone. Sellers will be directed towards more qualified leads. Canvassers will not spend time to convince. Waiters will know you’re fine with just water and not a $4 glass of Mango Iced Tea. Suitors will move on to the next person on the dating app.

It’s all good, see.

The beauty of “No” is everyone knows what it means, even if they choose not to follow it. No means no. In everything we do. So free yourself from life’s little hassles and use one of the most direct words for a happy, healthy and new-AC-free life.

Co-Founder Cast Iron LA agency. Webby Judge. Satirist. Contributor to FastToCreate, AdWeek, HuffPo, Digiday and others. I fight fire with humor. www.castiron.la