Self-help and motivational gurus, books, and videos will often tout the power of no. The idea is that saying “no” to someone or something is saying “yes” to something else. It can help maintain focus on your personal, business, or life goals.
Unfortunately, saying no is not always easy. Here are a few ways to say no to people with less guilt and trouble.
Why is Saying No so Difficult?
No is a short, simple word, just one syllable, only two letters. Yet saying no is hard. You don’t want to disappoint a friend. You want to respect your parents. You want to be helpful. You want to be nice.
No, practically speaking, sometimes just can’t be said. At work, saying “no” to a request from your boss is not going to fly. We might think “do it yourself” in our head, but “okay” or “sure” comes out of our mouth. We may not want to do the task, but we’ll take that over losing our job.
It is the other situations, often in personal life, when saying no becomes more challenging. When we don’t want to do a request asked of us, but we’re not sure how to say no without upsetting the person or feeling like a jerk.
Friends ask for favors, siblings want us to be someplace when we’d rather be somewhere else. Maybe people are suggesting dinner out when we are trying to cut spending. A great deal of the time, we smile, sigh to ourselves, and agree. Resentment builds.
Why do we say yes when we mean to say no?
We Want to Please People
We are taught from an early age that being agreeable is the trait of a good person. People like us better. They like being around us. We then feel better about ourselves. Our ego is fed. *Pop* goes the dopamine burst.
We Want to Rescue People
The rescuer is the frantic cousin of the people pleaser, only with drama. The rescuer offers unsolicited advice because they get satisfaction from social turbulence. They become the person others confide in, gossip with, and make requests of.
There is a great deal of power in playing rescuer.
Being that friend to rely on means the next time our friend feels upset at 3:00 am, it’ll be you they call. Certainly not a bad thing to be the person helping a friend, but there is a line between being a good friend and being a rescuer. If you’re wondering where that lines is with someone, you’re probably the rescuer.
We Don’t Want to Face Rejection
Saying no means we can face rejection. Those around may see us as mean or uncooperative. They might stop inviting us out or keeping us company. Worse, what if we say no to a request, but we need something from them at a future date?
There is no way around it, however. Saying no inevitably means letting someone down. In their eyes, we have less value.
No one likes losing value; it’s easier just to be agreeable and say yes. But is it worth it?
Saying yes when we mean to say no can lead to confusion for the other person as our wishy-washy feeling manifests itself later. Justin Bieber even wrote a song about the issue.
The problem is that we place more value on others over ourselves when we continually say yes when we want to say no. Every time we disregard our own needs we are doing just that – disregarding our own needs. The joy we might get helping others is followed by the frustration we feel neglecting ourselves.
9 Ways to Say No to People
We can all agree that saying no is hard. It takes courage.
However, saying yes can be just a Band-aid to cover larger problems. Saying yes may avoid a confrontation, but cause resentment. Each yes represents time spent on something we don’t want to do and enjoyment we are missing out on. Every yes comes at a personal, emotional, or even financial cost.
Following are 15 ways to take the pain out of saying no
1 – Be Direct
When we don’t want to say yes but are afraid to say no, we frequently dither and stall. We actually make it more difficult, because the other person is waiting to hear whether you can pick something up, whether you are free on Friday, or whether you’d care to go to dinner. By delaying an answer, you’re showing your hesitation. The yes then seems insincere.
Saying no should be simple and no more than two sentences. Examples include:
“I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to go shopping this weekend.”
“I’m sorry, I am busy with something else right now.”
Answers like these display politeness without having justifying your answer. You are not giving a reason. This answer is simple – no, I can’t. Nothing more, nothing less. This is the best way to do it.
2 – Be Honest and Sincere
When put in a difficult situation, it can be very tempting to exaggerate (read: make up) the details. If you’re asked if you are available for the weekend, you may find yourself stuttering something about how you have errands to run, how your boss may need you, and of course – your dog is sick…
Most people can read between the lines, and waffling only makes matters worse. “The only thing I plan to do this weekend is to stay in my PJs and order pizza,” is honest and sincere. The other person may not like it, but he or she will appreciate your straightforwardness. If they don’t, that’s a reflection of them, not you.
3 – Focus on What is Being Asked, Not the Person Asking
Rejection is painful, and we don’t want to inflict pain on others. By focusing on the request itself, we can help reduce the person’s feeling of rejection.
If you don’t want to go shopping, just say, “Sorry, but I can’t afford to right now.” You are saying no to the action, not the person asking.
The catch with this approach is that you have to truly be speaking to the request and not making up an excuse because you don’t want to tell them the real reason. If they ask you to go shopping and you tell them you don’t have money when you really just want to stay home, you may find yourself floundering when then they suggest a different, free activity.
4 – Stay Open
“No” doesn’t have to be set in stone. Explain that while you can’t do something right now, another time may work. Keeping the door open to a future yes makes a no easier to accept.
5 – Be Firm
Some people advise delaying a response with something like “Let me think about it.” This approach may buy time, but it won’t change want you want – to say no. It’s also not fair to the person asking.
Be quick and be firm. It is often best for everyone.
6 – Show Gratitude
Sometimes be asked to do something should be appreciated, but the answer can still be no.
“I would so love to go to dinner. It sounds like a blast. But I can’t, sorry.”
Let the gratitude at being asked shine through the “no.”
7 – Send the Request Back to the Requestor
This strategy can be especially helpful at the office. When the boss has a request, a definitive no can be tricky and have repercussions. If your boss makes a request that you can’t see any way of getting done, let them come up with the answer.
“I’m happy to do that, but to do a good job, I will need an extra week. Is that okay?”
8 – Negotiate a Deal
Your friend wants something, and you might be open to it at a different time or under different circumstances. Is there something the requester could do in return? Could this be a time for a deal?
Perhaps you can say, “Okay, I will try to bake the pies for the bake sale if you can drive the kids to school next week.” You may be able to negotiate a win-win situation by agreeing to something you ordinarily would not.
This strategy is also known as agreeing to something else. For example, you don’t want to see the movie your friend has in mind, but you can suggest something else. “No, I don’t want to see Star Trek Part IX, but I would love to go to the mall.”
You are saying no while tossing the ball back at the requester. Let them say yes or no”
9 – You Can Pass the Buck
You can blame external factors for saying no. If you live with your parents or are married, you have a live-in excuse for saying no. “It sounds great, and thanks, but my parent/spouse/child needs me for X. Sorry, I can’t.”
Other Helpful Hints
Navigating your way to saying no more often will take time, courage, and practice.
Brace for Repercussions
Despite your best efforts and honest answers, sometimes saying no to someone will have repercussions. It’s these repercussions that probably kept you say yes all along. There may be no way around them if you want to get to no.
You may get the cold shoulder. You may get the guilt trip. You may even, eventually, lose a friendship. It can happen. Someone else can get so upset at you for placing yourself first, he or she may argue or refuse to be friends anymore. Consider whether this person cares about you and is truly a friend in the first place. There are times we work at maintaining a relationship that is far past its “best by” date. You will need to learn to be content with that.
Think about the consequences of a refusal. There is a difference between picking up someone’s groceries versus watching someone’s children while a relative is in the hospital.
This leads us to the next helpful hint…
Don’t Be Manipulated
Some people frame a request in such a way that it is almost impossible to say no. That may be deliberate manipulation. Keep repeating “no” as long as it takes. Some people have mastered the art of manipulation.
For example, instead of asking whether you want to go to dinner next weekend, they will ask, “Do you feel like Chinese or Mexican for Saturday.” You aren’t given a way out; you are given options. It’s an effective trick, but the firm, “Sorry, I am busy,” still applies.
Review friendships and family members of this type. Are you giving them too much attention in your daily life at the expense of your own life or others you care about?
Do these people take you for granted? Do they expect you to be there for them while they may not be there for you? These people will probably resent you initially, but you should work toward creating a more equitable relationship with them.
Don’t Feel Guilty
A firm and unapologetic no may indeed upset someone. But keep in mind you are not responsible for someone else’s feelings. You are responsible for saying no. They are responsible for how they respond to no. Protecting your own well-being takes priority.
You have a right to your time and your feelings. If guilt does arise, ask yourself a Steve Jobs question, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”
Saying yes to someone besides yourself is not the way to spend your last day – or any day.
You Are Allowed to Change Your Mind
You agreed to go shopping with someone. You are a person of your word. However, in the interim, a child or a parent has become seriously ill and in need of attention. Maybe something else altogether came up – like you just want to stay home.
You always have the right to change your mind and say no after having said yes. Give a quick explanation, a sincere apology, and let the matter go.
Being Selfish is (Sometimes) Selfcare
If you are like most people, one of the first words of admonition you heard as a toddler were, “Don’t be selfish!” Parents and later other adults made it clear that focusing primarily on your own needs instead of someone else’s was a bad thing.
Self-care is not the same as refusing to help someone else and being there for them. Putting yourself first is not always bad. But how do we take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves first? And the word “no” is a huge part of self-care.
Carve out time for yourself. Schedule it. Make it a standing event on your calendar. It can be any time you want, and you should be able to do anything you feel like. You can pick an entire day or half a day. Maybe it’s an hour every morning before the kids wake up or every evening before they go to bed. Whatever time works for you, but it should be sacrosanct.
A person can be productive and still be selfish. As Warren Buffet has said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”