How to Say NO!

Do you have a hard time drawing a line in the sand? Are you boundaries blurry? Do you have a hard time saying no?

Learning to say no is a necessary skill when it comes to setting boundaries and maintaining healthy relationships, but before learning how to say no, let’s look at some of the reasons we say yes when we really want to say no:

  • We have anxiety about possible repercussions (i.e., what is the boss going to do if I say no; my friend might find someone more fun to hang out with; my boyfriend might leave me, etc.).
  • We want to look good and be liked.
  • We’d rather lose our self-respect than risk losing someone else’s.
  • We feel obligated to please others and meet their needs over our own.
  • We feel guilty, selfish, or like a bad person when saying no.
  • We are trained from a young age to be polite and compliant.
  • We’re afraid of disappointing someone or not pleasing them.
  • We’ve never learned how to say no.

Saying no can be challenging, especially if you haven’t been saying no. It is a skill that takes some practice. Here are a few tips on how to get started:

  1. If someone is asking you to do something you don’t want to do, avoid encouraging body language (smiling, nodding, etc.).
  2. Avoid asking questions that show interest while they are explaining their request.
  3. Don’t allow them to elaborate. As you soon as you realize that your answer is no, politely cut them off and say something to the effect of, “Thank you for thinking of me, but I need to pass on this one,” or “Sorry, I won’t be able to help you with that.”
  4. Keep your response simple and firm. Do not offer a detailed excuse/explanation as to why you are saying no because this creates openings for them to find ways to get you to say yes. For example, if you say, “Sorry, I can’t help you paint on Saturday because I have plans that day,” they might say, “No problem, I’m flexible on my dates, what day would you be available?” Instead of giving details, keep it vague. For example, “I wish I could help you out, but I can’t this time.” If they ask for further detail, let them know you’re working on taking better care of yourself and respecting your own time and energy.
  5. If you feel uncomfortable after saying no, resist the urge to change your response. Instead, sit in the discomfort and/or talk to someone who will encourage you to stand in what's best for you. 

If you can’t learn to say no, you will wake up one day and realize you’ve missed out on your life and you'll still be stuck doing a lot of things you don’t want to do, like taking care of everyone else’s needs instead of your own. And you'll eventually get resentful... chances are, you already are!

Now, I’m not suggesting that you should never do things you don’t really care to do, but at least be aware of the costs and consequences of trying to please others at your own expense. There may be times when you really feel like you can’t say no, and that’s okay. Just ask yourself if you could have declined if you really wanted to and examine the reasons you went against what YOU wanted.

When you say yes and then feel resentment afterwards, it is a clear signal that you are not spending your time and energy in alignment with your own values and needs, and you should at least consider graciously saying no next time.

There may be people in your life who will not easily accept “no” for an answer, especially if you’ve been saying “yes” to them up until now. They may try to violate your boundary or manipulate you into changing your mind, but try to understand that this boundary is not something they want or need. It is something you want and need. As such, you may need to firmly enforce your boundary several times before the person realizes you are serious. When saying “no” isn’t enough, you’ll need to let them know that it’s “still no.” For example, let’s say a friend asks you out on a date. You say “no” and explain that you’d rather remain friends. Next week, they ask you out on a date again, and you let them know that it’s “still no.” If they keep asking, you may decide to continue saying “still no” or at some point, you may realize that your wants and needs are too divergent and decide to end the relationship. As you start getting clear on your boundaries, you will find some are negotiable and others are non-negotiable. In other words, when someone breaches a non-negotiable boundary, it may very well mean the end of that relationship. If it’s a negotiable boundary, then you may be more tolerant and willing to try to find a workable compromise.

An important thing to remember about boundaries is that these are limits and rules that YOU want based on YOUR needs and values - not the other person's, so again, expect some resistance. Expect some testing. Don't take it personally when they try to cross your boundaries. You don't need to get mad, frustrated, or disrepectful - you simply need to follow through on whatever consequences you've deemed appropriate. Remember, when you're getting upset, you're giving them power over your mental and emotional state.  

A few tips on setting boundaries: 

1. Be specific about what you want and don't want

2. Be clear on what will happen when your boundaries are violated. 

3. Be non-judgmental

If you're interested in more information, insights and strategies on how to set healthy boundaries, check out my Healthy Communication & Boundaries online course.