Is it okay to say no when the answer is technically yes?

Like, I frequently get asked if things are possible and the answer is “yes, but…” where the “but” part of the answer involves either giving a paper’s worth of explanation as to why it’s a bad idea or something that only a very experienced, specialized practitioner would understand.

For example, if somebody asks me if it’s possible to transmute base metals into gold, I don’t want to go into some long-winded explanation that nobody would care to read and would rather just say “no” instead of talking about acquiring a particle accelerator, etc.

So can I just say no? I don’t want the naive person to go to their boss saying telling them that “CS said it was possible” because they’re often just looking for a yes from my end to justify some extremely impractical idea. But I also don’t want them to call me a liar if they ever find out about the long-winded set of special circumstances that might make their idea work in some fantasy-land.



Not practically


Yes, but…



Not with the time and resources we have available.


If you could go ahead and run that tps report anyway that’d be terrific…mmmkay?



1 Like

With God, all things are possible. But not all things are profitable.

1 Like

I have a few career management principles. One is about using the word ‘no’. If you can help it, you should aim to never utter the word “no” in a business context. Instead, find ways to make people regret ever asking loaded questions requiring yes or no answers.

“Can you please transmute base metals to gold?”

“Sure! Absolutely doable. Just need a few things from you to get it done, 234 billion tons of iron, the same amount of copper, 66 labs and 13 foundries for starters.”

When they say they can’t provide that, you can tell them “Sure, I’ll cut the requirements by at most 5%”.

That way, you are the reasonable person who is trying to make things work, and whoever asked you to transmute base metals to gold can go suck a lemon.


So what you do about the part where the person ignores everything you said after “Sure”? And then starts telling everyone that the project can get started because you, the expert said it could.

I would repeat the same discussion in all meetings about said project. Unless this person can sponsor and initiate projects alone it wont take long before everyone understands the picture. It’s so political at the top no one wants to be the person who wastes time. They wont do it a second time.

Respond with a question. Something like under what conditions or resource constraints. You want them to frame the question to get the answer they need. The problem is often they may phrase the question to get the answer they want.

That’s an interesting question.


1 Like

I have been thinking about it a bit more. As people get used to your judgement a yes or a no will be enough to settle matters. It is not that it is a complete answer but they trust your judgement now. Unless the environment is too political you will eventually earn the trust and you can give a no when technically a yes would work. However, before that, I don’t advise doing that. The long and short of my response is you need to learn to asess people and give suitable answers to each person depending on your relationship.