How to say no in ten easy steps (and feel great about it)

“No” is probably one of the hardest words to say. We’re naturally inclined towards pleasing others and rejecting them or something they’ve suggested or asked for, whether in business or in our personal lives, can be scary.

Nobody wants to hurt somebody else’s feelings on purpose, nobody wants to be the bad guy and nobody wants to wonder later on if they missed out. It’s understandable, then, that many of us end up doing favours we resent or working on projects that don’t feel right to us all because we’re scared to say one little word.

You want my advice?

Get over it.

It’ll be the best thing you ever do.

“No” is arguably the single most important word in your vocabulary. If it’s hard to say it’s because it’s bloody powerful. It is a boundary setter, a respect generator and a pre-emptive strike against time wasting and ultimately resentment. When you say “no”, you’re saying that you value yourself too much to put your time and energy into something you’re not 100% comfortable with. Think of each “no” as saying yes to the possibility of something better. You’re not missing out on an opportunity, you’re holding out for one that’s right for you.

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Being firm doesn’t make you a bitch! There’s a lot of power in the word “no”. Image © Richmond Pictures

How to say no in ten steps

♥ Trust your gut. Your gut is a clever little buddy. It knows exactly what is best for you, don’t ignore it out of guilt or duty. If someone asks you to do something and you feel uncomfortable about it, then you just can’t do it. It’s not right for you.

♥ If you run a business where you have to say “no” a lot, prepare a stock response that you can edit and personalise. That way it’s a lot easier to find the words to kindly reject somebody’s offer. If you have to think about it every time, you’ll find yourself procrastinating or wavering.

♥ Do it right away, like pulling off a plaster (or a band aid, for our American readers). The longer you leave it, the harder it will be and you’ll end up avoiding the situation.

♥ Imagine a tangible bubble of light around you. Nobody can penetrate that light or take it away from you unless you let them. When you say “yes” to something you’re not happy with, you’re allowing people to suck that light from you.

♥ Ask yourself what you owe the person asking for a favour. Nine times out of ten it’s probably nothing, and even if they’ve been there for you in the past, that doesn’t mean you are at their beck and call. You don’t have to give away a piece of you to everyone who wants it, be protective of yourself and remember that you don’t owe anyone anything.


♥ Be really clear and get everything in writing. If you reject someone over the phone, be sure to follow it up with a polite email. As awful as it might feel to say “no” twice, that way everybody is definitely on the same page and there won’t be any awkward misunderstandings later. Don’t rub it in, just be short and courteous and give the person in question a heads up over the phone that you’ll send them information in writing.

♥ Don’t overly justify yourself. It makes you look weak, a little bit like you’re lying and a LOT like you can be persuaded if hassled long enough. I have often been a victim of the over-justification syndrome – when I simply don’t want to do something because it’s not the right thing for me trying to explain it away with a million excuses. If you must give some sort of excuse, keep it brief and simple. “I’m unavailable that day,” or “I’m not able to do that, sorry.” or “that won’t be possible.” If you get lots of follow up questions either keep it simple or politely say that the answer is personal and you’d rather not get into it. Try not to get forced into a compromise if your initial answer was an unequivocal “no”. You won’t do yourself any favours or soften the blow that way, it’s as effective and healthy as ending a relationship by saying “but we can still sleep together… I guess…”

♥ If you have already agreed to something and you change your mind, pull out early and with integrity. Obviously the best option is always to stick to your word, but if you can’t do so, there are ways to extricate yourself with minimal damage. Don’t leave somebody in the lurch at the last minute or chicken out without telling anybody, and definitely don’t leave it long enough for them to shout about your involvement, or their involvement with you, only to be made to look foolish. Your “yes” was your mistake, face up to it, be apologetic and if you really can’t follow through with your promise, try to escape with your reputation and your conscience intact.

♥ Don’t dwell on or panic over a situation where you have to say no to somebody. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said “no” and then spent the rest of the day panicking that the other person will be angry or upset about it. You can only be responsible for yourself, their reaction is their problem. And every time, without fail, people have been fine with it and it hasn’t been an issue between us again, so all of the worry was for nothing. If you find yourself getting worked up over a difficult conversation, remind yourself of previous occasions where you’ve had to have a tough talk and it’s worked out fine. The fact that you have to remind yourself proves that it will soon be long forgotten anyway.

♥ Look at the results as an incentive to keep saying “no” when you need to. I’ll bet you feel a lot less stressed, your life / businesses / relationship is a lot less cluttered and frustrating and everything is higher quality. You’ll also probably find that people respect you more and think of you as a person who knows their mind and has a clear focus and vision.

Don’t let fear rule your life. How many times have you said “yes” when you really meant “no”? Take your power back and change your answer – you’ll be amazed at the results.

2 Comments on How to say no in ten easy steps (and feel great about it)

  1. tosha
    November 11, 2013 at 11:03 am (6 years ago)

    Loved the post excellent advice! :)

  2. Jo @ SO-Jewellery
    November 11, 2013 at 11:15 pm (6 years ago)

    What excellent advice, I fall into this trap far too often. I will definitely prepare some “stock” answers – albeit short ones :-)


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