5 ways to say “no” so you can start prioritising what matters most
August 02, 2022
This one is for the people pleasers. The ones who struggle to say no and feel miserable for saying yes. The ones who always compromise their needs to satisfy the needs of others. The ones who feel guilty for even thinking that “no” is an option.
Well, I’m here to tell you that saying no IS an option and yes, you are allowed to use that controversial word as often as it serves you.
I know, it's easier said than done, right?
We’ve all been there. Someone asks you a favour and every inch of you is screaming NO but somehow a cheerful “yeah no worries” comes tumbling out of your mouth?
Whether it’s that heavy feeling of obligation forcing your hand or whether you just want to avoid an uncomfortable conversation, I know that saying no isn’t always easy.
But what if it was easy? What if you could arm yourself with the skills to politely decline the things you end up dreading?
Maybe you have too much on your plate or maybe you simply don’t want to do what you’ve been asked (which is also perfectly fine).
The good news is, saying no is a skill that you can sharpen.
Let’s explore five strategies to help you say "no".
Reflect on why you're saying "no"
It's harder to say "no" when you don't know what you're reserving your time and energy for.
It’s easier to bend and cave when you’re not clear on your reasons. And this isn’t about justifying yourself. You don’t have to justify yourself.
The purpose of this reflection is to help you say no with ease and conviction, without caving when the other party pleads their case.
The purpose of the reflection is to help you uphold your boundaries and make choices that actually serve you. It’s about helping you feel more at peace with the decision you’ve made.
Reflect on why you’re declining the invitation or the favour. It can be helpful to play out the scenario of saying yes and reflect on the consequences.
When you sign up for something you don’t want to do, it’s likely taking away time and energy from other areas of your life. Therefore, it's important to ask yourself:
Will saying yes prevent me from focusing on something that’s more important to me?
What will it take time and energy away from?
How does it affect my daily or weekly schedule?
Will saying yes make me more tired or burnt out?
Will saying yes affect my mental health?
Does this request even align with my values and my goals?
It's up to you if you want to disclose your reasons.
Personally, for the most part, I feel more at ease when I’m transparent and honest about why I’m saying no, but it doesn’t mean that you have to be.
If you decide to share, just be mindful of the other person. Make your reasoning about you, not them. You don’t want it to come across as an attack.
For example, you might say:
I’m sorry I have to say no on this occasion, but I’m feeling really stretched at the moment and I really need some time to rest and recharge.
Be clear and kind
How many times have you clicked “maybe” on a facebook event that you knew you would never attend?
How many times have you thought to yourself:
They’ll get the picture. They should be able to judge from my tone that’s it’s obviously a no. They’ll read between the lines.
I know I’ve done that and I’m not proud of it.
It’s just not helpful or productive. It’s not helpful to the other person because they are still holding out hope that you might say yes and therefore aren’t making alternative arrangements.
It’s not helpful to you because you’re carrying the weight of a decision you haven’t yet verbalised or communicated. Until you provide a firm yes/no, it’ll remain an open tab in your mind because the other party will very likely circle back and ask you again.
So, if you lack the desire or the capacity to help or participate, and therefore need to turn down the favour or event, be upfront about it.
Avoid beating around the bush. Avoid stalling or delaying the inevitable.
Avoid leading people on by saying things like "maybe, I'll think about it, I'll let you know".
If it's a no, communicate that clearly and kindly. Be clear with your “no” so that there is absolutely no confusion and no seed of hope planted. And the best way to do that is to express some gratitude.
which brings me to tip #3...
Start with gratitude
Thank the person for the opportunity, invitation or for simply thinking of you.
Remember that it might have taken a lot of mental effort for the other party to even ask for your help.
You could express your gratitude by saying:
Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m so sorry I can’t attend your event. I’m feeling incredibly sleep deprived and I really need an early night. But thanks again for the invite. I know you’ll have an awesome time!
I’m honoured that you’ve asked me. Unfortunately, I have to say no on this occasion as I’ve got too much on my plate right now and I just wouldn’t be able to give this the attention it deserves.
I really appreciate the opportunity. Sadly, I have to decline the offer as I’m focusing on project x, y and z at the moment.
Reframe what saying no means
I understand that saying no is often met with this heavy feeling of guilt.
We feel selfish for putting our needs first. We feel as though we’re disappointing others, letting them down or hurting their feelings.
This narrative is what drives us to say yes even when it doesn’t serve us—even when it makes us miserable—even when it compromises our wellbeing. We end up disappointing ourselves.
That’s why we need to change the narrative. We need to change the story. We need to change the internal dialogue.
Saying no creates space in your schedule to rest and to do the things that fill up your cup.
Saying no supports your physical and mental wellbeing.
Saying no allows you to focus your time and energy on the things that are important to you.
Saying no gives you control over how you spend your days. It grants you the freedom to live a fulfilling life on your terms.
Offer an alternative
Saying no can be extra challenging when you want to be seen as helpful because saying no goes against that human desire.
Depending on the situation, you could recommend someone else who might have the bandwidth to help with the favour or the request that has been asked of you.
You’re still being helpful but you’re also honouring your needs in the process.
Ultimately, saying no isn’t always easy, but it’s a skill that you can develop with practise. It's a skill that will serve you today, tomorrow and the next. It's a skill that will help you truly focus on the things that matter to you most.