This is an ultra-practical and yet easy read. You’d love these strategies if you’re afraid of upsetting others, or don’t know how to defend your personal space. Let’s begin.
Do you feel uneasy or guilty about saying NO to friends or family? Can you easily deflect folks at work when they ask you to do something you don’t want to? Like a people-pleaser.
Remember, “No” is an entire sentence. It doesn’t need even one extra letter to complete it. So, learn fast the habit of saying a simple “No” and falling silent.
As Josh Billings, English navigator, and explorer, said, “Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.”
9 Ultra-Practical Ways To Say “NO” Without Lying Or Hurting
Dancing to the beat of someone else’s drum saps your energy, peace, and time. Learning to say “No” will help you quit doing so. Steal these nine useful tips to help you say that immensely rewarding NO without lying, being rude, or hurting anyone’s feelings:
1. Suggest a later time.
Every so often, you feel cornered and find it hard to sneak away from someone’s proposals or requests. When in one such tight situation, offer them your best option:
No, thank you, but it sounds lovely, so next time.
You can ask them to postpone the plan while offering to make it some other time. This will finally bring both of you to an agreement, and it will be you saying a halfway No.
No, please. Check with me some other time.
If there’s one quick practical tip to kick-start your habit of declining, it’s this: Postpone saying Yes or No right away. Instead, say you need some time to decide—that’s the art of positive procrastination.
Unfortunately, now is not a good time. Not today. Not this week.
Don’t ask their permission if you can get back to them sometime later. Make it plain and clear you will inform them when you have thought it over.
I need time. I’ll let you know after I find time and think it over.
2. Blurt it out. Just say No.
Each time you are under pressure to give in to someone, one highly effective way is this: say a gentle NO, and then fall silent. When someone asks you to change your well-set plans for them, refuse while being your polite self, offering no explanations. Simply say a courteous No and walk away.
I’m sorry, but I can’t.
Do not wait for a later time; say No immediately. The more time you take, the more chance they get to add to the pressure by dropping hints or explaining how it would benefit you. Tell them straight away you won’t be able to accommodate them.
Sorry, but I can’t.
Let them know you would have loved to do what they ask for, but some important commitments are coming your way. The thing is to speak what you really feel like speaking out, right away, with civility and propriety.
Sorry, I can’t.
Your gentle honesty might disarm them, or not, but you will have saved your plans while keeping your head cool.
3. Become more assertive overall.
The more you say “Yes” to every offer and every person, the more people size you up as a pliable and bendable person. They see you as someone made of clay-for-play. However, once you become assertive and start saying No more often, people see you as someone not easily influenced.
I’m not taking anything else right now.
When people realize you can straightforwardly say “No” exactly as you mean it, they hesitate to push their agenda on you. By putting your needs first, you also cut your chances of meeting those pesky “influencers” who can even persuade you to donate the pants you’re wearing to their charity.
I appreciate the offer, but no. Thank you.
Always remember, you can be kind while asserting yourself. With your considerate nature, you can make them see your firmness of decision, while also not going away feeling hurt.
No. Thank you.
4. Recognize when to ‘not’ say No
Sometimes, your denial might be fraught with mortal danger. You can’t say this “No.”
You need to analyze the possibilities precisely for what might happen if you refuse. You must weigh those risky situations up to make sure you can absolutely get away with a No.
I never say No to you. But this is only for you.
If it can have some far-reaching consequences when you say No, you are better off saying Yes.
For instance, you would not like to provoke an irate boss or a maleficent politician unless you are fully prepared to handle the repercussions. Persons like them cannot take No for an answer and make brisk plans to retaliate.
How can I say No to you? I have to live!
Think about the ramifications of your No. Analyze if your denial will lead to something disastrous. It will help you make the right decision in the right situation. It might save you and your prospects from getting hurt.
Let go of your urge to say No. Stop yourself from hurting that person’s feelings who’s making you the offer. Save your skin.
You’re making an offer I can’t refuse!
5. Tell them your reason for refusing
For once, just sit back and think how a simple No could improve your life.
Suppose you were ready to go out with your daughter when your boss calls you and asks to check a corporate assignment. Now, instead of taking it up and blowing your plan, you could say a No telling him your reasons.
The idea is to keep your reasons straight and ready.
I’m booked into something else right now.
Focus more on the little things in your life that give you joy. And let go of some bigger things you get pushed into.
I’ve to go out with my daughter.
Later in life, you would realize how important those little joyful things were. Then you might regret why you did not pick them over the tasks others asked of you. Keeping this on your mind will keep you sharp in refusing with politeness, even when it is tough to do so.
I’ve to watch a movie with my family.
You meet people who are pushy enough to force their ideas on you. They trap you and make you feel obligated to agree to their offer. Stop yourself from getting carried away in such situations. Instead, stay sharp and explain in a calm voice why you cannot take up their offer.
Now, your reason could be of any kind — good, or bad, or lame.
I’ve to feed my goldfish and watch them swim around.
Finally, know and remind yourself that “I don’t want to” is a valid enough reason to decline with politeness, and you can say it out loud and clear when asked why.
6. Stop feeling guilty before saying No
Sometimes, a No to the face could make you feel guilty. At those times, assure yourself it is alright to feel so, to save yourself from compromising your plans. You have your priorities to sort out, and they come first before you can agree to the plans others have for you. Tell yourself in such situations:
It’s okay to feel a little guilty to save my bigger plans.
But if you were to go their way and sabotage your well-set plans, you would feel guilty even then. And this time in a big, bad way.
This time, you might even set yourself up for retaliation on the person who made you do things you did not want to. This feeling of bottled-up guilt can drive you to hurt the person’s feelings at the first chance you get.
It’s okay to say No and feel a little guilt, rather than do it and repent.
The guilt of a No evaporates as you revel in the positive payoffs of your choice. When you feel the guilt of saying No, ask yourself:
What am I saying No for?
Once you answer that to yourself, you would no longer feel guilty to say No. You will realize that your polite refusal has made room for priorities in your life.
Now, you will have more time to do things that give your life meaning. You will have more energy to spend on your family and your close ones.
Finally, saying “Yes” to their every wish and command does not obligate them to return you the favor. They are free to decide what they want to do when the time comes, as you are now. More often than not, you will end up disappointed if you think people will do for you as you do for them.
I’ll end up being upset if I expect people to do for me as I do for them.
7. Tell them you are not the last resort
Realize this: you matter little to them. Your withdrawal from their plans would not affect either of you too much. Once you realize that, it will be easier for you to say No.
Tell them respectfully you can not be their last-resort person every time they have a problem. Maintain eye contact and stay firm in your voice, while remaining polite all throughout. This will help them understand that you cannot be at their beck and call for each of their errands.
A courteous, not curt, No can make both of you not feel hurt about it.
I have certain boundaries that are inviolable. So, no. And thank you.
So, do not put yourself in a situation where you have to say Yes when the person inside you is silently shrieking out No. Your agreeing to an inconvenient proposal might tax you with resentment and anger. In the long run, it might burn you out. A simple No saves you all that.
I’m not your guy. Thank you.
8. Remind yourself you cannot please everyone
You simply cannot please everyone. That is one truth you need to accept fast. Trying to please all, you take on unnecessary stresses on yourself. You also ruin your happiness in the long run.
I don’t want to take up your offer. Thank you anyway.
People-pleasing is never a healthy habit. The people-pleasers remain addicted to others’ approval, score low on self-esteem, and survive as emotional co-dependents. They often suffer from a feeling they have not done enough for others.
Acknowledge that no matter how hard you try, you cannot make everyone around you happy. Fault-finders and trolls are everywhere. Even your best intentions and utmost efforts cannot make everyone pleased. You must accept that.
I’m honored, but I can’t.
Keep telling yourself: “Trying to please everyone will ultimately exhaust me. Some people will always stay unhappy no matter what I do for them. So, I can stop trying to please them all. I’d rather say No.”
Look at it this way: The people-pleasers often get seen as manipulators who put up their acts to collect approvals and later favors.
So, stop feeling afraid because you think they might refuse you when your time comes to ask them for a favor. When you feel insecure this way, you go on doing every little thing they ask you to keep them pleased. This behavior badly affects your self-esteem.
I’d love to help you, but I cannot.
A research-based book on this problem is by psychologist Harriet Braiker — The Disease To Please.
9. Make sure your self-worth does not go down with their rebuff
Do you recognize your true worth? A good way to find out is if you say Yes to any proposal or behest that comes your way.
Of course, most of those you rebuff will retaliate on the go. They will tell you demeaning things and at least make disdainful expressions to make you feel down. But if you are firm in your self-worth, you know your value cannot get harmed by their words.
So, find out what you are to yourself. Fix your self-worth first. It would improve your confidence remarkably.
As your confidence grows, you figure out the downsides of agreeing to everything thrown your way. This further strengthens your resolve to say No. And you gradually find it easier to refuse the more persuasive people with gentleness.
I can decline to pick up any trash thrown my way.
In the end, you will have added chunks of quality time to your life.
Why Is It Difficult To Say No?
There are two problems that make it difficult to say No:
- The first problem is this: Until you say it, an unsaid No hangs like a burden heavy on your head. A simple “No, thank you” takes that load of indecision off your mind and settles you back into the valley of calmness.
- The second problem is this: When you say No, they know you have now set a boundary. They will have to respect that boundary from then on. It’s this that makes them feel challenged and uncomfortable. So they react and charge at you to make you feel bad.
The thought of saying No to someone asking for your favor may cause you anxiety. But once said, a firm No gets you back into the driving seat. Soon after you blurt it out, the anxious feelings turn into relief.
You must stand your ground and stick to your No. It may seem hard at first. The good thing is, the more you do it, the easier it gets. More so, once you accept it’s not at all your fault if they get irked or feel offended at your No — it’s their decision.
Those who are in the habit of hearing a quick “Yes” can take time to adapt. If they don’t change their nature, then you would do right to let them go. After all, the constant bitterness isn’t worth your mental peace.
When you have a valid reason to say No, they shouldn’t make you feel bad or guilty about it. If they do, then you should confront them about why they make you feel bad for saying No. An honest and compassionate conversation can work things out most of the time.
But if they offer a weird excuse for doing what they do, it’s obvious they don’t want it sorted out. It also becomes clear that the person doesn’t respect your space, needs, or boundaries. Why would you bend over your back to indulge such people?
To be honest, you never owe anyone an explanation for saying a “No.” Realize once and for all that you are allowed to say No for the sake of saying No. Let me say this again:
It’s perfectly all right to say No, whatever the reason. You never need to feel ashamed about it.
It may be hard at first. In time, it will get easier as they start accepting that your “No” means “No.”
Why Can’t You Say No: Fear or Guilt?
You find it hard to say No because you are afraid you would sound rude to the other person and make them feel hurt. Also, if you were to say No, you fear you would feel guilty. See that double-edged dilemma?
You realize you ought to speak No to save yourself from painful demands on your time and energy. Still, you cannot bring yourself to do it as often as you would like it.
Suppose you are planning to plug into your hobby project or spend some alone time all by yourself when your friend rings you up to come over. Now, as you cannot say No to them straight to the face, you let your little plan get ruined.
So, for the fear that you might hurt him by saying No, you end up hurting yourself by saying Yes.
Dancing to someone else’s tune costs you your energy and time. That is something you need to save yourself from. To do that, you must learn to say No when you want to say No, without jettisoning your social etiquette.
I am free to say No when I want to say No.
Make a note of all the things that come first in your life. Then gently reject everything else for fulfilling those. Shake off your inhibitions and start saying No—with firmness and calmness.
The more you think you can do it, the better you get at using that word. It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Don’t make space for the inconvenient demands of others. It does a disservice to you and your loved ones, as they have to give up their rightful demands on your time and energy.
Finally, celebrate the successes of the little polite refusals you will make in the coming weeks. This will keep you motivated to more often refuse the unhealthy demands on your time.
Sure, you have learned to say the golden word without hurting feelings. Now put it to practice. Take a step forward in choosing your happiness while also taking care not to upset other people’s emotions. A book to read on this topic is a bestseller by psychologists and leadership experts Henry Cloud and John Townsend on learning when to say Yes and how to say No: Boundaries.
Egos can make gentle criticism feel like acid attacks. Find out how to stop being sensitive to criticism.
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Authors’ Bio: Sandip Roy is a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism). Shirley Brown is an experienced lifestyle orator and academic expert who writes for several projects.
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