How to say NO!
It’s okay to say no. There are many reasons why we should say no sometimes, and there are just as many reasons why we don’t – and suffer for not doing so.
Read the steps below to understand why it’s hard to say no, and how you can learn to do it without feeling guilty.
Understand when to say no. Two-year-olds are famous for saying “no” like it’s going out of style, because they’ve only recently learned that such a thing is possible, and the new chances for independence it provides are fun and exciting. Two-year-olds are also known for being selfish and thoughtless. However, they’re on to something: it’s okay to say no. What separates adult usage of the word is that we can learn when it’s appropriate and when it isn’t.
- Saying no when you just don’t feel like doing something is okay, as long as the thing you’re being asked to do won’t reflect on your job or school performance. There’s nothing wrong with wanting time for yourself instead.
- Saying no because you don’t have the time to meet a commitment is okay. Others often don’t realize how difficult making such a commitment would be, given your schedule; some people do know, and are only asking just in case, even though they know you’ll probably decline.
- Saying no to a situation that makes you uncomfortable is perfectly okay. You never have to step outside your personal comfort zone to accommodate the wishes of anyone else (except, perhaps as an active-duty soldier following orders).
- Saying no when you’re asked to buy something is okay.
Learn why it’s hard to say no. There are many different specific reasons a person might find it hard to say no to others, but the common thread that ties them all together is worry – worry about what the outcome will be if you say no. It’s normal to worry about decisions that you make, but it’s important to understand two things: first, worrying won’t change what happens after you’ve made your choice; second, worries should never stop you from acting in your own best interests to begin with.
- No matter what your reason for being scared to say no, it stems from your worries about what will happen when you do. Will people still like you? Will you miss an important opportunity? Will you seem lazy, uncaring, or incompetent? Acknowledge that you don’t say no because you worry, then accept the fact that worrying never helps anything, regardless of the outcome.
Accept your power and importance. Like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, you’re a vital part of the landscape around you – it wouldn’t be complete without you in it. This applies no matter whether you’re always out with friends, or you sit at home and hide all day. The fact is, no matter who you are, your presence in the social landscape is valid. Furthermore, the decisions you make have an effect on that landscape. This means you owe it to yourself and those around you to make honest decisions, for the betterment of everyone – whether they realize you’re helping or not.
- Worrying about what will happen when you say no is symptomatic of a larger problem: worrying about the power you wield over those around you. Acknowledge that you wield that power no matter what you do or say.
Accept that others are the same. Though people vary in terms of personality, opinions, and attitudes, one thing they all have in common is a presence in the social landscape around them, same as you. It’s an immutable fact of living in human society. Therefore, controlling and channeling your own presence in such a way as to help you be happy is really the only sensible choice there is. It’s not as though you have some great and terrible reserve of influence nobody else has: if you say no, you’re only exercising the same power everyone around you also has. How they react to your decision is their business, not yours.
- You have every right to set boundaries for yourself. After all, your friends do, and people still like them. In fact, being assertive or even aggressive about what you want won’t make you hated or despised. The only thing that will make that happen is openly treating those around you as though they’re inferior. Saying “no” isn’t an expression of superiority; it’s an expression of mutual respect.
Understand that “no” isn’t cruel. By itself, saying no isn’t rude, mean, or uncaring. We attach those qualities to it when we speak in a rude, mean, or uncaring way while telling someone no. There’s no reason you can’t firmly decline and still be pleasant and polite; therefore, there’s no reason to fear making a poor impression because you say no, as long as you’re mindful of how you say it.
- In other words, once you understand that it really is okay to say no, the rest is just learning how to say it politely.
Excuse yourself plainly. The most basic way of saying no without ruining anyone else’s day is to clearly and plainly say “no,” followed by a brief, succinct reason why you said no. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no need to lie or make up an excuse if you don’t feel yours is good enough – remember, everyone has felt the same way you do right now. If you just don’t feel like granting a request, that’s all the excuse you need. No specific, concrete, or logical reason is required.
- For example, if someone asks you on a date and you aren’t interested, the right thing to do is to simply say “No; I’m sorry but I’m not interested in you in that way.” That’s all the other person needs to know to understand he or she has no further chance. There’s no need to make up excuses that will only string the other person along; there’s no need to be insulting and rude to drive him or her away.
- Chances are, if your honest reason seems silly or practically nonexistent – for example, “I was really hoping to go home and take a nap;” “I just don’t feel like it” – the other person will, in fact, understand completely. If he or she doesn’t, just remember: managing his or her reaction isn’t your responsibility. As long as you’ve been civil, that’s all you can do.
- This is the technique you should try to use most often. Your honesty and forthrightness will actually improve your reputation over time, rather than damage it. If you’ve had trouble saying no to things like peer pressure in the past, you’ll be amazed at how little it actually bothers most people when you simply tell them you won’t go along with something because you aren’t comfortable with it.
Make a counter-offer. Sometimes, you’ve got to say no for your own good, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t interested. For instance, let’s say you work all weekend, but a friend has asked you to help her move into a new apartment on Saturday. If you’d like to participate but you can’t, make another offer, with terms you can manage. Suggest spending less time helping out, or offer to do something else in a similar vein when you have free time, such as helping to break down boxes and organize the kitchen.
- The two counter-offers are less commitment, and a different commitment. Use them when you really don’t want to say no, but you have to for reasons outside your control. They’re also handy for when you do want to say no, but you don’t necessarily want to say no to the whole thing.
Suggest a retry later. In situations where you’re being sold items or offered services, it’s important to keep a grip on your money and time without needlessly upsetting the person who’s pushing you to spend one or both. Be clear and firm when you say no, but follow through with a promise to consider the offer. This may or may not be a bit of a lie, but at worst it’s a white lie that won’t hurt anybody.
- For example, to let a salesperson down gently, tell him or her that the offer “isn’t a good fit” or “just isn’t needed” for you right now, but that you’ll remember their brand if things ever change in the future.
- This isn’t an appropriate way to say no when you’re in a position of power and being asked how you’re going to use it (such as an employer being asked whether or not he’ll hire someone, or a person being asked on a date). In such a situation, it’s best to use the basic technique of being plainspoken that’s described at the top of this section. It’s cruel to give false hope to anybody who’s got a lot riding on the outcome of your decision.
Use humility. If someone would like you to take on more responsibility for them than you’re comfortable with, use humility to your advantage. Firmly decline their request, and explain that you know you just aren’t the right person for the job. This can lean into offering a plain, honest excuse, or you can take it the other way and continue to press the idea that you’re not skilled or qualified enough to do their request justice. The method you choose will depend on what you’re asked to do, and what kind of a reputation you have for getting things done.
- If you really just don’t want to take on the extra responsibility, offer that plain, honest excuse.
- If the request sounds interesting, but you’re pretty sure you’d make a mess of it, focus on your lack of qualifications instead. Just be sure not to be too hard on yourself – after all, you shouldn’t end up feeling worthless just because you’re unsure of your skill in one area.
Handle problem requests with bluntness. It’s best to be civil and polite, but sometimes, no matter what you do, people won’t respect your kindness. If someone keeps trying to crack holes in all of your honest excuses, and pesters you to explain yourself when there’s no further explanation you can give, it’s time to put your foot down. The next time this person asks you for something you don’t want to do, say “no, I can’t” or “no, I won’t.” There’s no need to say anything else. When they ask you to explain, ask them what part of the word “no” they don’t understand.
- This method of saying no will definitely make the other person angry; however, in the rare cases when you’ll need to use it, that person richly deserves to taste a bit of their own medicine for refusing to let you politely say no in the past. It’s not easy to be so blunt, but it’s sometimes necessary for your own well-being.
- Just because the other person gets angry with you, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll stop being friends. Nonetheless, only rely on this technique when nothing else seems to get through to him or her.