It’s a tough skill to learn, but setting your boundaries with a polite — but firm — “no” is an essential way to control your time, energy and professional life in today’s “yes” culture.

In these times, double down — on your skills, on your knowledge, on you. Join us Aug. 8-10 at Inman Connect Las Vegas to lean into the shift and learn from the best. Get your ticket now for the best price.

This article was last updated June 20, 2023.

Hustle culture teaches us that achieving our goals hinges on “coming from a place of ‘Yes,’” at least according to former Real Housewife and legendary entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel. Shonda Rhimes, the titan of TV show-running, even wrote a book about the year she spent saying “yes” to everything.

For those of us who are overworked and utterly exhausted, saying “yes” to one more thing seems like a terrible idea. Guess what? It is.

When you are already overextended, listening to yourself and learning to set appropriate boundaries is the smartest thing you can do. Although it might cost you some business in the short term, it will help you create a manageable and meaningful professional life — with time for the things that add satisfaction to every day.

Here are five things to keep in mind as you learn to say “no” to leads, clients and colleagues.

1. Do the math on the cost and benefit of saying ‘no’

Many times, we avoid saying “no” because we fear the cost that comes with it. Saying “no” to a potential client feels like throwing money away. Saying “no” to a colleague feels like burning professional bridges. Saying “no” to a leadership opportunity in your brokerage or your association feels like setting yourself up for future failure.

Take a moment, and do the math on that “no” to find out if the consequences are as dire as they first appear. If that potential client is difficult or unreasonable, he or she might be taking attention from all of the service you should be providing for truly wonderful clients.

That colleague might just feel that you’re an easy mark, using your unwillingness to set boundaries to make his or her professional life easier.

Even saying “no” to a leadership opportunity can be a good idea, especially if the job in question is a thankless one that pulls energy and time away from your real estate practice.

Learn to put a price on the time involved in a special request, and determine whether it is really worth your while.

2. Remember that ‘no’ isn’t an admission of weakness

Many real estate professionals view the ability to “do it all” as a badge of honor, allowing hustle culture to push them to say “yes” to everything to keep their veneer of infallibility.

In reality, the ability to say “no” and set healthy boundaries is a sign of strength, not weakness. When you look at true innovators and powerful influencers, they are great at learning how to prioritize and choose the things that best serve their energy and their goals.

It takes a strong person to say “no” and mean it. There’s a reason “yes men” are considered untrustworthy and unreliable lackeys. A willingness to say “yes” to everything automatically keeps you in a subordinate — and weak — position.

3. Offer an alternative to keep the lines of communication open

“No” doesn’t have to leave the other party high and dry. If you know that you are going to start setting boundaries, take some time to find alternative sources of help to continue providing service to the people you come into contact with.

For example, if you’ve decided to put your time and energy into working with sellers, line up a skillful and reliable referral partner who loves working with buyers. When someone asks you to help them buy a home, you’ll have a great recommendation at the ready, along with a streamlined referral process to help introduce them.

4. Replace ‘I can’t’ with ‘I don’t’

When you tell a person you “can’t” do something, you’ll find that they instantly become your biggest cheerleader and problem-solver. They’ll work hard to convince you that you can indeed do that favor for them — and they’ll be glad to explain how.

Instead, develop the ability to say “I don’t.” For example:

  • I don’t reduce my commission.
  • I don’t show homes without a pre-qualification.
  • I don’t miss dinner with my family.
  • I don’t list homes without professional photos.
  • I don’t work outside my local market.

Set your firm boundary with “I don’t,” then let the other person know what you will do. For example:

  • I don’t reduce my commission. Let me explain how I’m going to earn it.
  • I don’t show homes without a pre-qualification. Let me introduce you to a great lender and help you start the process.
  • I don’t miss dinner with my family. I will be happy to work with you to find another time to schedule your showing.
  • I don’t list homes without professional photos. Don’t worry — I’ll take care of those arrangements.
  • I don’t work outside my local market. I’ve got a great colleague in your market to introduce to you.

5. Learn to say ‘yes’ to yourself instead

You might be reluctant to say “no” because you feel that it’s mean, or rude or unprofessional. Setting boundaries, however, doesn’t have to be any of those things — and it gives you the opportunity to say “yes” to so many other things.

Learn a new skill. Get a new designation or certification. Spend more time on market research, or create content to better market your business. Put the focus back on you, and do the things you never seem to have time for.

Maybe you need to practice self-care. Maybe you need to work out. Maybe you just need to spend more time with your family. Saying “no” gives you the ability to fill the time you would have spent with that demanding client or onerous task with yourself and the people you love. That’s a big win.

Christy Murdock is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant and the owner of Writing Real Estate. She is also the creator of the online course Crafting the Property Description: The Step-by-Step Formula for Reluctant Real Estate Writers. Follow Writing Real Estate on TwitterInstagram  and YouTube.

Show Comments Hide Comments
Sign up for Inman’s Morning Headlines
What you need to know to start your day with all the latest industry developments
By submitting your email address, you agree to receive marketing emails from Inman.
Thank you for subscribing to Morning Headlines.
Back to top
Only 3 days left to register for Inman Connect Las Vegas before prices go up! Don't miss the premier event for real estate pros.Register Now ×
Limited Time Offer: Get 1 year of Inman Select for $199SUBSCRIBE×
Log in
If you created your account with Google or Facebook
Don't have an account?
Forgot your password?
No Problem

Simply enter the email address you used to create your account and click "Reset Password". You will receive additional instructions via email.

Forgot your username? If so please contact customer support at (510) 658-9252

Password Reset Confirmation

Password Reset Instructions have been sent to

Subscribe to The Weekender
Get the week's leading headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Top headlines from around the real estate industry. Breaking news as it happens.
15 stories covering tech, special reports, video and opinion.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
It looks like you’re already a Select Member!
To subscribe to exclusive newsletters, visit your email preferences in the account settings.
Up-to-the-minute news and interviews in your inbox, ticket discounts for Inman events and more
1-Step CheckoutPay with a credit card
By continuing, you agree to Inman’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

You will be charged . Your subscription will automatically renew for on . For more details on our payment terms and how to cancel, click here.

Interested in a group subscription?
Finish setting up your subscription