Strategies to Help You Say No

Saying “no” can be really hard. It can feel like you’re doing something wrong and that you should be saying “yes”.

It’s no secret that girls are taught to be polite by being agreeable and saying “yes” growing up. It’s thought of as abrasive to say “no”. In our adult lives this can be good. If a coworker suggests doing something in a particular way, it’s good team building to go with the suggestion and build off it (the “yes and” approach). But what about when you can’t afford it? Or what about if you don’t have the time? Saying “yes” when you really want to say “no” is not good for you.

If you’ve ever struggled with saying “no”, try these six strategies.

1. Prioritize

When you’re making a decision, prioritize. Remember that you cannot say “yes” to everything! Your resources of time and money are limited. Prioritize what’s important to you. If it’s not important, then say “no”. Otherwise, your acquaintances, people who don’t matter much to you, will take up your time and you won’t be able to say “yes” to the important things that do matter. Trust me, you don’t want this to be you!

2. Weigh the pros and cons

In any given situation, weigh the pros and cons of saying “yes” and saying “no”. It’s important to leave emotion out of your decision here. How you feel about saying “no” should not affect your decision. You should make your decision based on the factors affecting your decision – not how you feel about it. When you reach the conclusion and have reasons why it’s best for you to say “no”, commit to saying “no”. Be sure of your decision and your reasons why. And be honest with yourself about why you’re saying “no”. This will making actually saying “no” easier and feel more genuine to the person to whom you’re telling.

3. Set boundaries

You cannot please everyone all of the time, nor should you want to. Know your values and boundaries. Set them clearly. Don’t look to your peers for these things; set them yourself based on your personal belief system. Keep them in mind when you’re feeling pressured to say “yes”. If it’s not right for you, then saying “no” and maintaining your boundaries is important. This life skill of knowing your limits and / or when people are overstepping is incredibly important in your personal life and professional life. Sheryl Sandberg discusses this in great deal in Lean In as does Dr. Henry Cloud in his famous book, Boundaries.

4. Think about yourself

Women, especially mothers, think they have to be selfless all the time and that that’s a good thing. The best thing you can do for your relationships is to put yourself first. I’m not talking about spoiling yourself; I’m talking about taking care of yourself. You have to know what’s best for you, and when you stick to it, your relationships will improve. This will make you stronger and a better partner, mother, friend, etc. For example, if you don’t have an emergency fund saved and your friends are going on a trip, you have no reason to feel bad saying “no”; you should feel proud that you’re prioritizing your financial foundation over fun.

5. Acknowledge your feelings — and say “no” anyways

If you feel bad about saying “no” the best thing you can do is acknowledge these feelings and separate them from your decision. Your decision is to say “no”; this has nothing to do with your feelings about it. Your feelings are something you have to deal with yourself, but shouldn’t affect your choice. You can work on managing your feelings by acknowledging that you’re feeling a certain way (whether you feel bad because you’re not getting external approval you long for, or whether you feel guilty, etc.). Then, to figure out why you feel that way (maybe you care a lot about what other people think and want their validation, or maybe you lack confidence and believe “being selfish” is a bad thing). Finally, recall the reasons for your decision. This may help you realize that there’s no reason to feel bad at all. (And the more you say “no”, the less bad you feel about doing it.

6. Be careful how you say “no”

Most people are uncomfortable saying “no”. It feels awkward and is difficult. That’s okay. Just because it’s hard to say “no” doesn’t mean you should say “yes”. It just means that it’s hard (personally, I just remind myself that being a grownup is hard sometimes and to deal with it). One way to manage this challenge is to have a game plan. That is, plan out how you’re going to say “no” to someone (whether you’ll give reasons, etc.).

Bonus Tips

Because saying “no” isn’t all that fun, here are actionable tips to implement when saying “no” in any situation.

  • Do not apologize for saying “no”. You’re not sorry for saying “no”; you didn’t do anything wrong. You just happen to have a hard time saying “no”.
  • Be honest and considerate. Although you’re giving someone an answer they don’t want to hear, you don’t have to be aggressive with the news. If you’re honest and considerate when you deliver the news, the conversation should be easier and the other person should receive it better. (Obviously, this will vary depending on the situation, whether personal or business related. But the point still holds that being honest and grounded will be better received.)
  • Do not be a pushover. Conversely, you want to be firm. Use language like “Unfortunately, I cannot do xyz.” Do not say “I don’t think it’s going to work out; I doubt I have the time…” In the latter language, you’re leaving room open to be persuaded. You want to balance being considerate with being committed to your decision and clear about your choice.