Saying no is not always the easiest thing to do. We live in a world where we’re (usually) expected to drop everything and help other people, sometimes even at the expense of our own personal health and happiness.
They’re asking you for something. And you feel like if you say no, they’re going to hate you. So you’re tempted to say yes, even though you don’t want to. Ever been there? We all have.
Many of us have trouble saying No. But if you say yes, you’re going to be frustrated with yourself. And you’ll likely feel resentful and angry with them… even though you could have just said no.
And research shows this not only creates a cycle of awful feelings, it actually does real damage to your relationships. Yes, being ‘too nice’ can cause legit problems.
You should say “yes” when you feel that the task is manageable, when it’s within your responsibility to do it, or even when you owe a favor to a friend. But if you’re always saying “yes” because you’re afraid of saying “no,” then it’s time to take action and take your life into your own hands without feeling guilty.
Why Is It So Hard to Say No?
You see, our bodies and brains are so incredible at protecting us. No is hard to say because no is hard to hear.
This way of thinking has a name in the world of psychology and it’s called negativity bias. This is the reason why embarrassing events, negative experiences, or hurtful insults get amplified and endure for so long.
So when we have to say no to others, we anticipate it’s going to hurt them. And since most of us want to be liked by our peers, we get the squeamish uneasy feeling that pushes us towards the yes instead of the no.
Oh, and guilt. Guilt also usually tags along with the squeamish uneasy feeling.
How To Say No Without Feeling Guilty
This will take you step-by-step through how to change your mindset around saying no so that you can do so with confidence and ease. You will find some concrete steps and examples on what to do and say so that you’ll be able to say no gracefully.
1. Remember: You Can’t Please Everyone
Acknowledge that it’s impossible to please every person in your life and that you have to draw the line somewhere. You may feel that you will disappoint a person if you say “no,” and will thus lose his respect, but you may find that the opposite is true. If someone thinks you’ll say “yes” to everything, then he will actually be more likely to take advantage of you and to ask you to do too many favors.
You can please the people you really care about some of the time, but it’s not possible to please every person every time — and maintain your sanity.
2. Notice the No’s
Times when you said no and someone got angry stick in your memory like billboards made of neon. But the truth is people say no to requests all the time and suffer no ill consequences. The sea doesn’t turn to blood and frogs don’t fall from the sky. The requester just shrugs and says, “Okay.”
But you forget those all too easily and train your attention on the 0.02% of the time when the other person blew up and stormed away, never to speak to you again.
So watch your interactions and the interactions of others more closely. Notice all the times “no” doesn’t cause any problems and try to develop a more realistic perspective.
Gain a little perspective by becoming aware of how often people around you say no to each other from day to day. When you really pay attention, you’ll find that it happens all the time, and in most cases it’s no big deal. Keep that in mind when it’s your turn to say no in similar situations, and when someone’s saying it to you.
3. Buy Time
When you feel pressured for a yes, don’t give the yes — relieve the pressure. Ask for time. This will allow you to calm down and properly evaluate whether you really want to agree or not.
In order to break your habit of giving an automatic “yes” response to requests from others, you need to delay your answer in order to think through your options carefully. The old adage to think before you speak — or, in this case, agree — is wise psychological advice. Once you learn to insert time between an invitation, demand, or request and your reply, your sense of control will immediately increase.
The point of this is to give you breathing room. You’ll have time to gather your thoughts, connect to why you want to say no, and create a response you’re confident in. Don’t let anyone harass you to give them an immediate answer. Be prepared with a go-to response that gives you some time.
Your answer may sound something like that:
- I need to check my calendar; I’ll get back to you.
- Let me check with my husband/wife/partner to see if we’re free that day.
- I’ve got to think about that; I’ll let you know.
- I’ll have to call you back in a few minutes.
Don’t turn them into questions. They’re statements. And use a pleasant but assertive tone. And don’t ask whether you can think about it. Instead, tell them that you’re taking some time for that.
4. Have a ‘Policy’
No, this has nothing to do with insurance. We’re back to the issue of boundaries. When you live by clear principles it’s easier to make decisions and people are more likely to respect your responses.
Also, there’s less chance of someone feeling personally rejected if it’s clear this is a “rule” you live by consistently.
suppose a friend asks for a loan you don’t want to extend. Utter the phrase “Sorry, I have a policy about not lending money,” and your refusal immediately sounds less personal. When you turn down an invitation by saying, “Sorry, I can’t come — it’s our policy to have dinner together as a family every Friday night,” it lets the other person know that your family ritual is carved in stone.
But every rule has exceptions. And persistent people will seek to find them by nagging you with why their request is special, unique and covered in glitter.
5. Just say “No.”
No matter how awkward it may feel, you need to be clear about your response. Being wishy-washy or beating around the bush isn’t fair to the other party. They need a timely response to make the appropriate plans and may perceive your indirect response as a “yes” and then you’re committed.
If you can’t take on a project or attend an event, give them an honest and brief explanation. If you’ve established boundaries and policies, this shouldn’t be a problem. You could respond with, “Sorry, I can’t make your party. Friday nights are family game nights.”
6. Make a Counteroffer
Just because you’ve declined an individual’s request doesn’t mean that you still can’t help them. If they’ve inquired about a job, you could refer them to a colleague or another business. If they ask you have availability for a new assignment, let them know you’re booked this week but are free after that.
You’re still offering to help but it’s on your terms. A benefit in offering other suggestions or support is that you don’t feel guilty about saying “no.” It’s a win-win.
7. Be Prepared for the Reactions of Others
We’re gonna be honest, not everyone is going to be as happy about your ability to say no as we are. Some people will look at you and say, “Good for you! Do what you need to do,” and support you endlessly. Others… well, not so much.
Some might feel entitled to you, your space, your energy, and your time. They might see you as holding some kind of obligation to them where your boundaries don’t apply. These people, when you tell them no, are probably going to be angry. Unfortunately, you have to mentally prepare yourself for that.
The word no is like a magical sword you can wield to protect yourself. When you see people coming your way with “a favor to ask,” get ready to draw a line in the sand. Because while saying no may leave them slightly disappointed or temporarily upset, it will establish a concrete boundary for the future. So, the next time your boundaries are challenged or pushed, stand your ground and flash that shiny [s]word.
8. Know Your Value
Underestimating our value is one of the main reasons why we say “yes” too often. We thrive on the approval of others. If we turn them down, they may assume that we’re careless or don’t know how to manage our time correctly. Obviously, we don’t want that reputation — especially when you’re just-starting-out in your business.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you always say “yes” others may take advantage of that. As a result, many people will frequently assign you new responsibilities or ask “for a minute” of your time because they know you won’t say “no.”
While you want to be reliable, you don’t always have to put the needs of others ahead of your own. The best course of action is to know how much your time is worth and placing more value on your opinion then of others.
9. Be More Selfish
There have been negative associations with the word “selfish.” But, remind yourself that the problem often comes from highly adept manipulators — and you don’t have to have any of it. At the same time, being a little more selfish may be a good thing — since it can help reduce anxiety and stress.
Think about it. You skip the gym to go to happy hour with your friends. You help someone else on a project before completing your own work. Or, you skip a doctor’s appointment to meet with a potential client. Over time, your mental and physical health suffers.
If there is one reason why you should start saying “no” more often is that you need time to take care of yourself. If you’re a wreck — then how can you possibly help anyone else out? Self-care is empowering and healthy both mentally and physically.
10. Use the ‘Broken Record’ Technique
Most people will move on if you clearly explain why you can’t help or meet with them. Unfortunately, some people can’t accept being rejected. They will try to break you down until you reconsider.
First thing to do is say you can’t help them. The second through seven-hundredth thing to do is repeat the first thing:
- Them: “Can you help me bury this body?”
- You: “Sorry, I can’t.”
- Them: “What if we bury it tomorrow? You available then?”
- You: “Sorry, I can’t.”
- Them: “I’ll let you use the fancy shovel…”
- You: “Sorry, I can’t.”
This exercise teaches you persistence and doesn’t allow people to bargain because you just keep repeating your denial, not responding to their new angles or reasoning.
Don’t get angry or raise your voice. Just calmly repeat yourself until the other person is utterly exhausted.
3 Steps To Say No Without Feeling Guilty
What’s the best way to say no without feeling guilt, fear, or worrying about hurting their feelings? Here’s how to put it all together and say no with ease and grace:
Step 1: Say It Simply
There are people who have a habit of answering yes/no questions with lengthy explanations about the reasoning behind their answer (without actually giving you a yes or no). Most people who feel guilt around saying no tend to do the same thing.
When saying no, start with “no” (or something that clearly means the same thing, such as “I can’t”). Don’t beat around the bush.
And whatever you do, don’t go into a long-winded explanation justifying yourself. You don’t need to justify your reasoning. All that does is bring on more guilt and opens the door to more pressure being applied, because they’ll smell blood.
Step 2: Briefly Explain
You know the saying that “no” is a complete sentence? It is supposed to be, but only if you want to be rude (which will only make you feel guilty).
To say no with kindness, give a brief 1-2 sentence explanation as to why you’re not able to help them. This isn’t about justifying your answer, but about being kind and compassionate in how you say it.
Here’s what that could look like:
- I’m booked solid and don’t have the time.
- I just don’t have the bandwidth to assist right now.
- I have a firm rule never to do business with friends.
- I’m already committed during that time and I’d be breaking a promise if I didn’t honor it.
Step 3: Stand Your Ground
If they don’t take your initial (or repeated no’s) to heart and keep asking, it’s okay to sound like a broken record. It’s even okay to get shorter with them in how you say it. This is when it’s okay to use “no” as a complete sentence.
Here are some ways to say “no” again and again without getting pulled into justifying yourself or sounding weak:
- I’ve already given you my answer.
- I’m sorry, but my answer isn’t changing.
- You can keep asking, but the answer won’t change.
Some Useful Examples of Saying No
Regardless of how many ways you learn how to say no, it can still feel overwhelming to simply start implementing this word into your vocabulary. Start small and start where it feels easiest. By beginning to flex your boundary-muscle, you’ll see that over time choosing your time wisely becomes easier and easier.
Here are some examples of how you may say “no” without feeling guilty:
1. “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’ve got too much going on right now.”
This approach empowers you to show your appreciation first and then say no in a realistic and honest way.
2. “Sounds like a great opportunity/party/happy hour! Unfortunately, I can’t make it.”
A tried-and-true approach to saying no.
3. “I really can’t give that 100% of my effort right now, so I’m going to have to decline.”
Choosing your happiness and sanity doesn’t make you a bad person! Plus, showing up 50% is never a good feeling for anyone involved.
4. “I appreciate the offer, but I can’t right now.”
Being grateful outweighs the fact that you’re declining their offer. Right…?
5. “This project/opportunity deserves more attention than I can give at the moment. I’d love to chat about some ways we can make it work without my direct involvement!”
Call on this one when you realize that you’re doing too much to be 100% involved but still want to help the project/event/opportunity be a success.
6. “Nope, it’s just not in the cards for me right now.”
Because I’m aware AF of my schedule and realize that I don’t want to be spread too thin!
7. “I’m going to have to pass, but check with me next time!”
You never know what the future might bring, so using this line makes it clear that you do want to be considered for future opportunities and invitations.
8. “It’s going to have to be a no from me, but thank you!”
Short, sweet, and to-the-point! Seems easy enough, right?
A Note on Guilt
What about any guilt? Nobody has forced you to feel guilty — it’s self-generated. See the bigger picture where your time and energy is being poured into a greater purpose, and the guilt won’t ring in your ears quite so loudly.
So, when you next want to say no — just do it! And if your diary is fully stacked with extra commitments which aren’t serving you, and you’re feeling massively overwhelmed and under-excited, I think you know what you need to do next.