A lot of people hate to say no. We feel pressure to avoid that word as best we can; we fear that it will disappoint people, or hurt their feelings. We worry that we’ll let someone down by declining their request. But let me tell you one of the secrets of successful leaders: They all know how to say no when they need to, because they all know how invaluable it is for protecting their most valuable commodity—their time.

See, saying no is really a way to control your life, and to organize your days in the most beneficial way possible. And though it doesn’t always feel good to say no in the moment, it can actually help keep you from disappointing people in the long run, because it helps you avoid making promises you’re unable to keep.

As you seek to master the power of no, let me offer a few words of advice:

  • Say no immediately. It’s always better to give a definitive answer right away than make a promise you ultimately have to break—or worse, to say you’re going to do something and then find yourself rushing through it rather than doing it well.
  • Avoid indecision. No is always a better answer than maybe. Indecision can be taxing for all parties involved, so don’t beat around the bush.
  • Don’t lie about your reason for saying no. Dishonesty will only make you feel guilty—and besides, you don’t really owe anyone an explanation for how you spend your time. A firm but polite no is the only answer you need to give.
  • Don’t be manipulated. There’s nothing wrong with giving an assertive answer; don’t allow yourself to be swayed by people who whine, beg, complain, or try to bargain with you.

The bottom line: Understand that a good, polite, but firm no is often the best answer you can give—not just in terms of protecting your own time, but also in terms of respecting the other person. Master the art of the no today!