5 ways to say No

5 ways to say No

It’s at the very core of our human nature to want to please people.

We are very worried about our we will be perceived when we say no. We fear we might be perceived as being unkind, unhelpful, stingy or wicked.

Sometimes, we fear we might miss an opportunity, hurt someone’s feeling or make someone angry with us.

We are so particular about what people will think of us that we end up saying yes when we really want to say no, often at the expense of our own comfort.

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What we don’t put into consideration is the fact that saying yes too many times almost always brings us to the point of overwhelm.

It causes us to lose sight of our goal and pretty much make us put the important things in our lives that we should really be doing on the backburner.

When we finally look at what we could have achieved if we had said no, it makes us resentful of the person we are helping out, and make us feel under-appreciated and over-committed.

Why do we do this to ourselves instead of simply saying no from the beginning?

I have to admit that I have a really hard time saying no, especially when I am caught off guard. It’s in my nature to help, it is important to me to be nice and kind and considerate to the people around me. I also don’t want to miss out on what could be an amazing opportunity, or just plain fun. I want to do it all, and I want to be everything to everyone.

I’m learning that in order to become good at saying no, I have to arm myself with a handful of tools that will help me say no without feeling bad, and without upsetting or angering the asker. They are certainly not foolproof, and I certainly haven’t mastered them just yet, but these five guidelines might just help you too.


Soften the blow by including a few positive statements before and after the word NO. These positive phrases can help take the focus off of the negative and act like a cushion to the one word we have such a hard time using. Instead of being the big fat meanie we fear we will be perceived as, we become the person who sees value in the other party and what they are asking us to do.

Here’s how it works:

Begin with a compliment:  That sounds wonderful!  or What a great idea!

Gently say no:  I’d absolutely love to do this, but I can’t right now.

Finish with a positive:  I’m so honored you would ask. I know it will be great! Please keep me in mind for next time.

And, if next time still doesn’t work for you? Just say no.

Sometimes we get so caught up in not wanting to disappoint someone that we forget how powerful effective delivery can be in any situation, but especially when we are giving bad news. Being prepared and positive (but firm) can greatly increase the chances of our audience reacting positively as well.


Before answering a request, let the asker know that you will get back to them. Make a habit of taking a breather, no matter the request, so that you have a moment to think about how you really want to answer. It is perfectly okay to say, “I will have to check my schedule” or “I have to think about it” or “I need to talk with my spouse” before giving a final answer.

Many times we say YES because, in the moment, we are so caught up in the excitement of the opportunity or the need to please that we forget how much time we don’t have or we feel obligated to accept while in person. Taking a moment and getting back to the person will give you time to think and respond appropriately without committing yourself to something you don’t want to do.

Waiting to give an answer is probably the easiest way to begin your journey to effectively using the word NO. For me, particularly because I’m a Doctor, it is the response I most commonly use. Pausing before answering allows me to gain a moment of clarity, bounce the request off a few people to get their thoughts and opinions about the situation, and sometimes even find someone else who is interested. Everybody wins!


Sometimes, when the asker is very assertive or aggressive or good at making you feel guilty, it can be very hard to say no in person. In these cases, try changing the channel. Ask for time to give a response, then respond to an in-person or phone request through a non-confrontational channel of communication, such as email or text message.

Having a firm NO in writing and without having a verbal conversation makes it a lot easier to prevent falling into the trap of back-and-forth convincing, especially when the person who is doing the asking is much more forceful or persuasive than you are. It is also much easier to type NO than say it!


When you are asked to do something that you are not interested in doing or don’t have enough time to do, it can be much easier to say no by instead referring someone else who might be even better. Most of us know at least one or two people who like to say YES to everything, or who love being involved, or who are looking to plug in somewhere else. Perhaps it is someone who recently moved to the area and hasn’t found their tribe just yet, or another who happens to be an expert in this area and would gladly take this task on and do an even better job.

By providing a name of someone else who may be interested, you can go from being he person who says no to the person who helped. There’s a big difference between the two and the latter is one both parties can feel great about.

Instead of obligating yourself, drop a name and walk away feeling helpful.

Be careful who you recommend though. Make sure it’s not someone who is trying to get rid of overwhelm too. You can do this by talking to the person before making the recommendation.


A simple, direct NO is usually the most effective.

An unequivocal NO eliminates the expectation of any other possible outcome. This response quickly frees up both the person asking and the person answering. It allows you to check the item off your mental list instead of wasting any additional thought on it.

So why is so it so hard?

For me, it has taken actually practicing in front of the mirror, but I have learned that sometimes simply saying no on the spot while leaving out the fluffy details ultimately saves both parties time and energy. It’s still important to be polite, and I can still surround my no with niceties, but when I don’t hedge, there is no confusion.

If you have no intention of saying yes, and it’s clear to you that you have no intention of saying yes, why prolong the answer?

Be quick. Be considerate. Be confident. But say no.

Saying no can be really hard sometimes, and even painful. But often the alternative is even worse.

Remember that you’re in charge of your peace and what you allow into your space.

Say No if you have to and don’t ever feel bad about it.

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