Best Tips for Learning How to Say No

For many of us, saying no is difficult. Women, in particular, are trained from childhood to be good, unselfish, and compliant and to take responsibility for keeping other people happy. Also, depending on the generation that you are born in, your cultural background, or the family beliefs that you were raised with all have an impact on how we view saying no.


When you consistently take responsibility for others’ happiness, the chances are that the following things will happen:

  •  your feelings of self-worth become dependent on other people
  • you end up with little or no boundaries
  • people expect you to be there for them all the time
  • you become exhausted, stressed, resentful, and frustrated
  • you won’t have time to do the things you want to do by yourself or with your friends and family
…and people won’t even be grateful! If this describes you, now is the time to take back your power, set some clear boundaries, and say no.


Here are some tips to make saying no a whole lot easier:


  • Don’t explain

You don’t owe anyone an explanation – keep it simple and merely say no. If that feels too blunt, you can dress it up a little by saying ‘I’m sorry but I can’t”. But you don’t need a story or an excuse or a note from your mother. In fact, the more you say, the more you’re giving the other person to hold onto and try to get you to change your mind. Be clear, firm and direct and don’t give them any wriggle room.  Don’t forget to speak in terms of “I can’t”, “I don’t”, “I am not”.


  • Don’t respond straight away.

Take a moment to consider how saying yes or no will impact you.  Will it help you achieve your goals? Will it take you further away from your goals?  Is it something that you want to do?  One of the most frustrating things for me, is people assume that I am too busy and they do not even ask me.  I take responsibility for creating that environment because I have had to say “No” a lot because I work in the evenings.  I do my best to say yes to the events that I want to go to and the events that I can go to as often as I can.  I also try to interact as much as I can on social media so my friends know that I am following them.  It is important to make time to do the things that you want to do and then enjoy that time.


If it’s a message or email or phone request, you don’t have to let them know right away. Buy yourself some time and reply when it suits you. That way you can break the habit of a kneejerk ‘yes’ and decide whether you want to do it or not.


  • Maybe compromise

Compromising with a request is possible. Maybe you can do next week but not tomorrow, or lunch rather than dinner. Only do what feels right and don’t let any compromise become a slippery slope for falling back into the habit of doing what everyone else wants. Only compromise when it works for you.  One of my values is reciprocity.  I will compromise for those people that do the same things for me. I will not compromise for the people who always want me to give in or concede.


  • Don’t make it personal

Saying no to the request is not rejecting the person. Be clear in your mind that saying no doesn’t mean you are a bad person or that you’re saying the other person is bad or undeserving. You have the right to say no if you don’t want to do something or if now is not a good time. If they take offense, stand your ground.  I can get uncomfortable, but sometimes you have to go through those moments.  Don’t make excuses or apologize—paint a bigger picture for them.


We do birthday parties at the school and as part of our summer promotions I have been giving away a lot of the parties.  We had someone take advantage of it right away, and they asked for it on a day that I had already put a full day workshop on, but I scheduled it for after the workshop.  It was supposed to start at 5:15 pm and the birthday girl did not arrive until 5:30 pm.  The mom wanted me to wait for some other family member to get there and I told her that I could not.  She started giving me all of her reasons, but I held firm by giving her my reasons.  I made a promise to my husband that I was going to keep.  I told her how I could get started and how we would integrate the family members as they came in and we both got what we wanted.


  • Say no to your kids!

Do your children a favor and set clear boundaries with them. Make sure that you set clear expectations and outcomes with what you are requiring them to get done.  Sometimes in the moment it will feel easier to give in to them to avoid the argument or conflict, but that is teaching them how to get what they want and not what you want.  One of my favorite movies from the 90’s was Training Day with Denzel Washington. There is a line in there that I adopted that changed how I dealt with my kids’ forever-“Do you wanna go to jail or do you wanna go home?”.  This is the line that the detective used to leverage people to do what he wanted and it made complete sense to me.  When I implemented this with my kids I only gave them the options that worked for me. For example, if they asked to go out with their friends I would tell them “Yes, after you clean the kitchen and take out the garbage.”.  I would not give them room to negotiate.  If they wanted to go out, then they would have to get those two things done.  If they tried to change it, I would tell them the answer is no. The biggest principle to remember with your kids is be clear and stand your ground.


 They need to know what’s okay and what’s not. Learning to deal with ‘no’ will prepare them much better for living in the real world where they won’t get everything they want. It will also teach them how to ask questions and create situations where they can get what they want if they are willing to work for it.


Trust yourself

We talked about this in an earlier section and this is a skill just like any other, it has to be developed. Listen to your gut and follow what it tells you in the small things.  For example, I still do some computer consulting and my customer wanted me to install this camera.  My customer did not wait for me to configure the camera before he had it installed outside.  I tried every way I could to get this camera on the wifi and nothing would work.  So, I had to run a cable to the camera and when I went to buy the cable my gut was telling me to get a 75 ft cable, but I measured it and felt like a 50 ft cable would do just fine.  Would you believe that I was almost 2 ft short?  If I had just trusted my gut and got that longer cable I would not have had to struggle to make the 50 ft cable fit work. 


The other added benefit is you will build your self-respect and honor your rights as an individual. Respecting your own needs and boundaries will inspire respect in others. Trust that you know what is best for you and take steps in that direction.


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