9 Practical Tips: How To Say No, But Not Hurt Feelings

how to say no without guilt

Do you hesitate to utter the word No at work, to your friends, your family members? Are you a people-pleaser, and find it hard to refuse anyone? Then here are some useful tips to help you learn how to say No without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.

— Josh Billings, English navigator and explorer

The Problems of Saying No

The thought of saying “No” to someone asking 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.

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 set a boundary now. And they will have to respect that boundary here on. It’s this that makes them feel challenged and uncomfortable. So they react and charge at you to make you feel bad.

At this point, you must stand your ground and stick to your No. It may seem hard at first. But 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 do they make you feel bad for saying No. An honest and compassionate talk 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. Also, it becomes clear the person doesn’t respect your personal space, needs, and boundaries. Why would you bend over your back to indulge such people?

A part of learning to say No is understanding once and for all that a “No” is a complete sentence, and it doesn’t beg any excuse or explanation. If truth be told, you don’t ever owe a reason to anyone for saying it. Give yourself permission to say No for the sake of saying No.

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. But in time, it will get easier as they begin to get it that your No actually means No.

It's not your fault if they get irked or feel offended at your "No" — it's their decision. Click To Tweet

Why Can’t You Say No: Fear or Guilt

How often have you wanted to say No? The answer is probably “many times.”

You fail to say No because you’re afraid you would sound rude to the other person, and make them feel hurt? And if you were to say No, you fear it would make you 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 can’t bring yourself to do it as often as you’d 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.

What happens there is this: For the fear 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. And that is something you need to save yourself from at times. To do that, you must learn to say No when you want to say No, without letting your social etiquette stopping you.

Dancing to someone else's tune costs you your energy and time. Click To Tweet

How To Say No Without Hurting Someone’s Feelings: 9 Practical Tips

You can learn to refuse, decline, and deflect, without hurting anyone. Before we learn that, two pillars of truth in this regard are:

  • “No.” is a proper and full sentence in itself — it doesn’t need even one extra word to complete it.
  • “I don’t want to.” is a valid enough reason for your No — so say it out loud and clear when asked why.

Here are 9 useful and practical tips to help you refuse more often without hurting anyone’s feelings:

Tip #1. Tell Your Reason For Refusal

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’ve to go out with my daughter.

Focus more on the little things in your life that give you joy. And let go of some of the bigger things you get pushed into.

Later on in life, you’ll realize how important were those little things. Then you’ll regret why didn’t you pick them over tasks others asked of you. Keeping this always 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.

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.

In such situations, as we said, stay sharp. Stop yourself from getting carried away in such situations. Instead, explain in a calm voice why you cannot take up their offer — it can be any reason, good, bad, or lame.

I’ve to feed my goldfish.

Tip #2. Just Blurt It Out

One highly effective way is this. When someone asks you to change your well-set plans for them, refuse while being your polite self. Just 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 your pressure by dropping hints. Tell them straightway 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, but some of your important commitments are coming in 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.


Tip #3. Suggest A Later Time

Now, from time to time you may feel cornered and find it hard to sneak away from their string of proposals, offer them your best option:

I need time.

You could ask them to postpone the plan while offering to make it some other time. This would finally bring both of you to an agreement, and you will be saying a halfway No.

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.

Don’t ask their permission if you could get back to them sometime later. Make it plain and clear you will inform them when you have thought it over.

I need time.

Tip #4. Stop Feeling Guilty

A No to the face can make you feel guilty at times. But sometimes it is alright to feel so to save yourself from compromising your plans. You also have your priorities to sort out before agreeing to others’ plans.

When you feel guilty, you might set yourself up for retaliation on the person who made you guilt-ridden. So you see, feeling guilt can drive to hurt the person’s feelings at the first chance you get.

Also, stop feeling afraid because you think they might refuse you when your time comes to ask them for a favor. When you feel afraid this way, you go on doing every little thing they ask you to keep them pleased. This affects your self-esteem.

In any case, your saying Yes to their every wish and command doesn’t obligate them to return the favor. They are of free will to decide what they want to do when the time comes, as are you. You will end up disappointed if you think people will do for you as you do for them.

You will end up disappointed if you think people will do for you as you do for them

The guilt of a No evaporates as you begin to take joy in the positive payoffs of your choice.

When you feel the guilt of saying No, ask yourself:

What are you saying No for?

Once you answer yourself that above, you’ll no more feel guilty to say No.

You’ll realize your polite refusal has made room for your priorities in life. You now have more time to do things that give your life meaning. You now have more energy to spend on your family and your close ones.

[A bestseller by psychologists and leadership experts Henry Cloud and John Townsend on learning when to say yes and how to say no is: Boundaries.]

Tip #5. Pleasing Everyone Is Not Your Forte

You simply cannot please everyone, and that’s a truth you need to accept fast. In trying to please all, you not only take on unnecessary pressure, but also ruin your happiness in the long run.

People-pleasing is never a very healthy habit. People-pleasers are addicted to others’ approval, low on self-esteem, and emotional co-dependents. They often suffer from a feeling they haven’t done enough for others.

Trying to please all will exhaust you. In the end, there will always be a few who will stay unhappy.

The truth is no matter how hard you try, you can not make everyone around you happy. There are fault-finders and trolls everywhere. Even your best intentions and utmost efforts will fail to make everyone pleased. You need to accept that truth.

There is another way to look at it. The people-pleasers are also seen as manipulators who are putting up an act to collect approvals.

[Here’s a research-based book on this problem by psychologist Harriet Braiker: The Disease To Please.]

Tip #6. Know Your Self-worth

If you fail to recognize your worth, there’s a good chance you say yes to any proposal that comes your way. So, it is vital to fix your self-worth first. It would improve your confidence.

The Courage To Say No When You Must Say No - Fearless Motivation
Say No Sometimes

As your confidence grows, you start to 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.

In the final run, you add quality-time to your life.

Tip #7. Become More Assertive

The more you say Yes to every offer and every person, the more people start to size you up as a malleable person. But once you become assertive and start saying No more often, people start to see you as such.

Once people realize you’re well capable of saying a strong No, they won’t try to push their agenda on you. By putting your needs first, you also cut your chances of meeting those who can persuade people to death.

But always remember, you can be kind and considerate while asserting yourself. This way, you can make them see your firmness of decision, while also not going away feeling hurt.

Tip #8. You Are Not The Last Resort

Realize this. 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.

So, don’t put yourself in the situation where you have to say yes when you really want to say No. Your agreeing to their proposal might leave you with resentment and anger. And in the long run, it might burn you out.

Tell them with respect that you can not be their last-resort-person every time they have a problem to solve. Maintain eye contact and stay firm in your voice, while remaining courteous all throughout. This will help them understand you can not be at their beck and call for each of their errands, and yet not feel hurt about it.

Tip #9. Learn Where To ‘Not’ Say No

You have to be careful to assess the situations where you need to say Yes, and analyze what will happen if you say no.

If it’s going to have some far-reaching consequences when you say No, then you’re better off saying Yes. For instance, you would not like to provoke an irritable boss who would most likely retaliate.

Think about the consequences of your No. Analyze if your denial would lead to something disastrous. It would help you taking the right decision at the right situation. It might save you, yourself, from getting hurt.

Let go of your urge to say No. And save yourself and the person both from getting the feelings hurt.

Final Words

Make a note of all things that come first in your life. Then gently reject everything else when it comes to fulfilling those. Shake off your inhibitions and start saying No — with firmness and kindheartedness.

Don’t give space in your life to the inconvenient demands of others. It does disservice to you as well as your loved ones, as they have to give up their rightful demands on your time and energy.

Finally, you should celebrate the successes of the little polite refusals you will be making in the coming weeks. This would keep you motivated to more often refuse the unhealthy demands on your time.

Honestly, you don't ever owe anyone a reason for saying "No." So, give yourself permission to say No for the sake of saying No. Click To Tweet

Now, at this point, we’re sure you have learned to finally say the golden word without hurting feelings. Bingo! You have taken a step forward in giving priority to your happiness while also taking care to not upset the emotions of others.

[Do you know what’s the science behind the law of attraction? It’s this: Self-fulfilling Prophecy.]

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Authors’ Bio: Sandip Roy is psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. Shirley Brown is an experienced lifestyle orator and academic expert associated with MyAssignmenthelp.

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