Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough. – Josh Billings
Saying no to people is one of the hardest things at times – whether it’s because you can’t do something, you’ve got plans already, or you simply don’t want to do it!
We often wind up feeling guilty about saying no, and worrying that it will affect how others see and treat us.
Remember that you can’t always do everything and learn to say no with conviction. Here’s how:
You’ve said no for a reason – maybe it’s not your responsibility or you don’t have time to do it. Being reasonable is the best way to deal with this type of thing, and will stop you from feeling guilty.
If you can tell yourself that you’re being reasonable (and believe it), you’re less likely to feel guilty about saying no.
It’s totally normal to have commitments or plans in place already and you’re not being unreasonable by not wanting to have to change those plans. You’re not being selfish by not wanting to renege on prior arrangements.
Remember that everyone has a life outside of work – friends, partners, families, hobbies – and that it’s necessary to prioritize certain things at certain times.
You’re not being unreasonable by having other commitments in place (even if those commitments involve you, a hot bath, and a large glass of wine!) The more you can tell yourself this, the better you’ll feel about saying no.
If there is a genuine reason for not being able to do something, explain it when you say no.
Try to make the person understand that in order to help them with this task, do them this favor, or go out with them, you’d be letting someone else down or sacrificing other commitments.
By being honest and letting the person know that you’d feel guilty if you cancelled your plans, they will understand that you’re compassionate and committed.
Sure, it might not be great for them, but they’ll be able to empathize with you. Nobody likes having to cancel plans, especially if it involves doing something they enjoy, or seeing someone they care about, so play on this.
You don’t need to make them feel guilty for asking you, but be honest and explain that you don’t want to let your partner/friend/child down. They’ll understand and will definitely appreciate your honesty.
What’s the worst that can happen if you do say no? Maybe you’ve done so in the past and someone has been upset or rude to you, but it probably didn’t end as badly as you’d thought.
Remember that other people have said no to you, too, in the past – you probably don’t hold a grudge against them and can understand their reasoning behind it. Remember this when you’re feeling guilty!
You can’t be angry at someone for having valid reasons for not being able to do something, and they won’t be angry at you either.
Rationalizing situations can be very tricky in the moment, especially when there are emotions such as guilt involved.
Try to reflect on the situation soon afterwards by writing down what happened and how you feel about it.
This will help ground you the next time a similar situation occurs, as you’ll know what to expect and the ways you may have overreacted in the past.
The more convincing you sound when saying no, the more likely the person asking something of you is to accept it.
Try to speak confidently – remember that you have no reason to feel guilty, and explain calmly why you’re saying no.
If you’re dealing with a friend or family member, they will understand and they won’t push you. If your conversation is with a colleague or boss, remember your area of responsibility and get used to saying no to things that fall outside this.
By backing up your statement with inner strength, people are more likely to realize that you’re being serious and are less likely to try to keep pushing you.
Stick to what you’re saying and do your best not to back down – this will become easier the more often you do it!
Sometimes it can be hard to react to something in the moment, especially if you’re not used to saying no.
Try to have some answers prepared so that you’re not caught off-guard – you’re more likely to say yes to things if you feel under a time-bound pressure.
Find a few phrases that feel natural and simple to remember, such as “Let me just check my diary and I’ll get back to you.”
Do your best to sound assertive and bold – you’re not saying anything out of the ordinary and you’re in control at the moment. This is a perfectly acceptable first response and means that you’re less likely to blurt out a “yes!”
From here, you could send an email or message explaining why you’re not free, as this may feel less intense and scary than saying no to someone’s face.
When explaining why you can’t do something, sum it up in a simple statement – “I’m sorry, I have plans already.” This is perfectly acceptable and easy to remember!
When someone persists in asking, you can stick to this sentence.
Be firm and assertive and repeat yourself as many times as needed for the information to sink in. You’re not being rude by doing this, you’re simply making it very, very clear that you can’t do what they are asking this time round.
Rather than answering other new questions that they might try to throw at you, stay disengaged and repeat your basic statement.
Try not to let yourself get distracted, as you’re then more likely to try to answer their questions, get flustered and end up saying yes.
Each time you manage to say no to something, make a note of how you feel. Write down your emotions and thoughts about saying no, and what you expect to happen now.
At first, you’ll probably make notes that involve feeling guilty, worrying that you’re going to be hated or fired, panicking that you’re a bad person.
After a few days, make a note of the consequences – maybe somebody else got asked to stay late to work, or your friend found someone else to drive them to an appointment.
Whatever the outcome, it’s probably nowhere near as bad as you predicted.
By writing down how you’re feeling and then following up later with the actual consequences of your actions, you’ll start to realize that saying no doesn’t end in disaster!
The more you can practice this, the better you’ll feel about saying no. You’ll soon realize that you can re-route your mind to think of saying no as the healthy, reasonable thing it is, rather than a pathway to horrible things happening.
When you say “yes” to others, make sure you’re not saying “no” to yourself. – Paulo Coelho
Lucy is a travel and wellness writer currently based in Gili Air, a tiny Indonesian island. After over a year of traveling, she’s settled in paradise and spends her days wandering around barefoot, practicing yoga and exploring new ways to work on her wellbeing.