how to say no

How to say “no” without feeling guilty.

How do you stop saying “yes” when you honestly just want to say “no”?

Well, it’s not easy, right? For some of us, it may be more difficult than others.

  • Some of us have a tendency to be people pleasers.
  • Many of us are approval-seeking. Others of us feel compelled to say yes all the time
  • for other reasons.
  • Some of us just have an inclination that we can do it all; that infinite yes’s are our
  • superpower.
  • Sometimes, we have every intention of saying no, but when actually confronted with
  • the question or request from another person, we cave and say yes anyway.

But here’s the thing – Nobody has an infinite number of ‘yes’s’ available to them. Your yes’s are like cows in India – SACRED! 

If you are overwhelmed, stressed, and constantly busy, a large proportion of this is a consequence of too many ‘yes’s’ and not enough ‘no’s’. Always saying “yes” leaves you with a packed calendar, frazzled nerves, and no time for the things you truly love.

Saying “no” can be empowering and always provide some positive benefits to your mental health and helps to declutter your mind from stress and worry because those “no’s” mean you’re free to focus on things that are more important to you – even if that’s doing absolutely n-o-t-h-i-n-g because, damn it, you earned a day off!

RELATED ARTICLE ALERT: Slow down and enjoy life more.

A worksheet to help you build and flex your “no” muscle.

Here is a simple worksheet that will help you diagnose what’s currently on your plate, what may be coming down the pipeline, and identify the reasons that you’ll have a hard time saying “no”.

Now that you’re in a better position to say “no”, let’s look at some ways to say it without feeling guilty (courtesy of Forbes).

How to say no without feeling guilty.

Forbes offers 5 great nuggets of wisdom for saying no.

1.  Keep it short.

When declining a request, keep it short and simple. Avoid excessive details, and don’t rattle off a laundry list of excuses and prior commitments. If you provide too much information, you’ll appear nervous or guilty. The other person may take your discomfort as a cue to press you further, or persuade you to change your mind. Skip elaborate explanations in favor of a firm but polite “no.” For example:

  • If you can’t attend a social event, say, “Unfortunately, I have a conflict and can’t make it. But thank you for the invitation.”
  • If you can’t take on a volunteer commitment, say, “Unfortunately, I’m unable to take this on. But thank you for thinking of me.”
  • If someone pesters you for details, avoid the temptation to cave in or divulge too much information. Instead, repeat variations of “I have a schedule conflict” or “I have too much on my plate right now.” Eventually, the other person will move on.

2.  Buy time.

When someone catches you off guard, you may become flustered and automatically jump to say “yes.” Avoid this scenario by buying yourself more time. Instead of responding right away, tell the other person that you’ll check your calendar (or think about it, or check with your spouse) and get back to them within a certain time frame. Remember to be gracious and thank the other person for thinking of you. By politely delaying your answer, you’ll have time to weigh the pros and cons of the request and prepare a thoughtful response.

3.  Propose an alternative.

Instead of saying “no,” you may want to propose an alternative. Maybe a friend wants to throw you a huge birthday bash, but you hate being the center of attention. Or maybe you want to meet an old friend for coffee, but only after you’ve returned from vacation or finished a huge project at work. Rather than saying “no” right off the bat, offer a brief explanation and ask the other person to consider a different course of action (or different timing). For example:

  • “I’d love to celebrate my birthday together! Thanks so much for offering to arrange a party. I prefer a low-key gathering with close friends and family. How about we keep it small and simple?”
  • “I’d love to grab a coffee, but I’m getting ready to go out of town. How about meeting in a couple of weeks instead? Can I contact you after I get back, and we’ll set something up then?”
  • “I’d love to help with that project. But due to my schedule, I can’t get started until XYZ date. Would that work?”

4.  Drop it. 

Generally, it’s not wise (nor honorable) to fail to respond because you don’t want to say “no.” But if you’ve tried to say “no” and the other person refuses to accept it, you will often save time and headaches by disengaging. For example, if an acquaintance is always trying to sell you something or take advantage of your generosity, at some point you may decide to stop returning their calls and emails. After all, it never feels good when someone is trying to use you – whether for money, connections, or one-sided friendships. Use your best judgment about whether you want to address the issue further (for example, if you value the relationship and want to preserve it), or simply let the silence speak for itself.

5.  Avoid the ‘nice’ trap.

Many of us (especially women) fall into the trap of wanting to be “nice” and avoid hurting other people’s feelings. As a result, we often say “yes” because it seems so much easier than saying “no.” But in the long term, being too nice only ends up hurting us. Without the ability to say “no,” we rob ourselves of the power to control our lives and the way we spend our time. So the next time you say “no,” be polite but firm. Remember that a request is just that — a request — and that you have no obligation to agree to everything that is asked of you. Resist the urge to smooth things over by apologizing profusely, or offering to help next time (unless you really mean it). By standing up for yourself, you will show others that you value yourself and your time.

Your challenge.

If you’re someone who has struggled with saying “no” in the past, realize that it’s important (and okay) to be a little selfish and focus on yourself and your needs. Your mental health and well-being will thank you.

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