How To (Kindly) Say No: The Sandwich Strategy

This week on Episode 141 of the podcast I’m giving you a sneak peek into Chapter 11 of my book, The Joy of Missing Out, which is all about how we can un-commit to things that do not bring us joy, and how we can learn to say “Yes” to the things that do bring us joy instead!

But here’s the thing about saying “Yes” to what brings us joy: it essentially means that we need to say “No” to the things that don’t – but for some, saying “No” can be problematic! After all, how can we say no if we’re accustomed to gifting ourselves to those around us at the drop of a hat?

For givers like you and me, we must learn how to navigate the scary concept of saying “No” to others when and where we need to. Contrary to popular belief, saying “No” doesn’t make us selfish – It does quite the opposite, actually!

And while we dive into this topic in much more depth on the episode this week, I thought we would take some time here today to rid ourselves from some of the anxiety that we feel whenever we even think about saying “No” to a friend, family member, or co-worker, or to an opportunity that presents itself but that we don’t necessarily feel very excited about.

Saying “No” doesn’t need to be such a terrifying endeavor! When done tactfully and respectfully by using what is called the Sandwich Strategy, it becomes as second nature as saying “Yes.”

Ready to jump in?


How to (Kindly) Say “No” with the Sandwich Strategy


 What the Sandwich Strategy Is—

Think of a sandwich. What does it typically include? There are usually two slices of bread that are keeping the middle part (maybe some sliced turkey or ham, a slice or two of cheese, veggies, and so on) intact, right?

This is also how the Sandwich Strategy itself works. While your sandwich won’t be made up of actual food, the structure is essentially the same: the “middle” (the meat and veggies) of your sandwich becomes the “No” that you’re expressing, while the two slices of bread are two Yeses that you’re taking up instead.

In action, the Sandwich Strategy would go something like this: Let’s say that your boss asks if you’re available to work over the weekend to work on a project, but you already have plans with your family that you can’t (or don’t want to) possibly break.

Your inability to work over the weekend, then, becomes the “No” (the bulk) of your sandwich.

What you need now is the two slices of bread of your sandwich – the two yeses that you’ll offer up to your boss that will complete the whole strategy and allow you to say no as kindly as possible.

In the situation above, your two yeses might be: 1) Your plans with your family and, 2) Your willingness to contribute in a way that doesn’t require you to come in over the weekend.

When you put your sandwich together, your response to your boss might look like this: I have plans with my family, so, unfortunately, I am unable to work over the weekend. I am really interested in learning more about the project, though! Is there another way that I can contribute that doesn’t require me to come into the office this weekend?

While it’s clear that your general answer to working over the weekend is “No” to your boss, the beauty of the Sandwich Strategy is that it doesn’t leave anyone with a flat-out no response – which then takes some of the uneasiness out of turning someone down.

Instead, the Sandwich Strategy offers up an explanation for the no and opens the door for any mid-way compromise to happen if necessary.


What the Sandwich Strategy Does—

Studies have shown that the more trouble we have saying no, the more likely it is that we will experience burnout, stress, and depression compared to those around us who are well in-tune with the Art of Saying No.

Taking that idea one step further, what this essentially means, is that the more we allow ourselves to say yes to things that we don’t have time for and/or that we don’t genuinely want to do at our core, the more our emotional intelligence suffers in the long-term.

So, what can the Sandwich Strategy do for you? Simple.

It can help you tap into your Yes, and it can open up new doors of opportunity for you (that is, opportunities that you do want to take on!).

It can also help you stay in alignment with your authentic self, which is vital when it comes to finding and cultivating happiness at home and at work . . .

And who doesn’t want that, right?


So, there you have it: The Sandwich Strategy! It’s one of my favorite tools to use when I’m presented with an opportunity that I’m not too keen on taking on in my personal life . . .

And it’s an even greater tool to use when you’re at work and are faced with the tough decision to take on a project or additional responsibilities, or not.

No matter how you spin it, the Sandwich Strategy takes some of the general uneasiness we givers often experience when we’re afraid to say “No” to a friend, family member, boss or colleague . . . And it’s a great way to give ourselves the grace (and space) to really dive in and determine out all of the things that we want to say “YES” to instead.

Have you used the Sandwich Strategy before? Share your experiences and any tips and tricks you have on saying no with kindness in the comments below . . .

And tune in to Episode 141 of Productivity Paradox this week to learn even more about how you can quiet the noise in your day-to-day so that you can find your YES – and use it as a springboard to your best life yet!

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Tonya Dalton
Tonya Dalton