Saying No, the easy way



Not everything matters equally.

                                  Gary Keller


Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.

                                               Oscar Wilde

The Yes/No dilemma 

Many of us have been programmed to say “yes” in life.

We have been given many reasons to say yes:

  • It is polite.
  • It is unselfish.
  • It is proper in order to advance a civilized society.
  • It is what good people do.


We have been given many reasons that we shouldn’t say no:

  • There will be punishment if we do say no.
  • There will be privileges lost if we do say no.
  • We will lose friends if we say no.
  • It is socially unacceptable to say no.
  • We will miss an opportunity if we say no.

When someone makes a request, ask yourself what motivates me to say “yes”?

Some healthy reasons to say “yes” are:

  • I want to be helpful.
  • I am qualified to be helpful.
  • I have time to be helpful.
  • The work doesn’t conflict with my current priorities.
  • The work doesn’t conflict with my essential values.
  • The work doesn’t compete for my planned activities.

Under what circumstances do you feel most comfortable saying “no”? Have you found yourself saying “yes” when you know your heart is saying “no”?

There may be a truth to the saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person”. However, hardworking enthusiasts can take on too many assignments.

There are times and events when our lives are temporarily unbalanced, and we would be wise not to take on anything else. We may be able to respond affirmatively at one time in our life and not at another time for an identical request.

The importance of saying “no”      ……………

  • Learning to say “no” is neither synonymous with being self-centered nor ignoring the needs of others.  Saying “yes” when you need to say “no” takes its toll over time.
  • When we do and say things that are not consistent with how we feel, we chip away at our self-respect. Betraying ourselves eventually leads to disliking ourselves.
  • Saying “no” expands the space we have to respond to our priorities. Responding too often to the demands of others diverts us from our goals. Our dreams may slip away. What goals are you postponing?
  • A feeling that others are structuring  our life often builds resentment and later anger. Who are you beginning to resent?
  • When we say “yes” but our posture, facial expression and mood convey “no”, the communication is confusing.
  • All of us have limited energy and time. The emotional forerunners of fatigue are feeling too busy, overworked, irritable, hassled, or discouraged. How is your emotional and physical reserve?
  • Individuals and relationships are the most healthy when each person has control over and is responsible for their own life choices. Without freedom of choice, we feel at  the mercy of other’s expectations and demands.
  • If we can say “yes” or “no” with confidence our sense of control increases. Saying “no” can be a valid and useful skill.

The Yes Traps

No” is the first word many of us learn to say. Most two-year-old children can proclaim it emphatically to anyone or anything that imposes on their world. By adulthood, we have lost the capacity to say “no” straightforwardly, comfortably, and quietly. We have fallen into the “yes” traps.

The most common “yes “ traps are:

  • The compassion trap: This person is prone to taking care of someone else’s needs at the expense of their own. It is somehow irresistible to be needed. He or she loves to be needed.
  • The super – mom/dad/boss trap: The recognition that comes with being a hero or heroine is the attraction. He or she loves to be seen as remarkable, as going the extra mile.
  • The door mat trap: The “door mat” accepts that others have a right to make unreasonable demands. Doormats feel that they don’t have a right to say “no”.
  • The peace maker trap: The peacemaker will avoid conflict at almost any cost. He or she would rather overwork than disagree.  They hate conflict.
  • Deviations from “no” and “yes”:

No but

  • Saying “no” but feeling guilty about being: inadequate, lazy, or uncaring.
  • Saying “no”  but feeling resentful or even angry that others don’t recognize you are already overextended.
  • Deferring to someone else to make the decision.  “Ask your mother”, or “Ask you father” really means “I don’t want to be the one to say “no”.
  • Accompanying “no” with multiple apologies and a detailed explanation of how your life has been recently complicated.

Yes but

  • Redefining the issue by refusing to discuss the real issue. Changing the topic is not an answer.
  • Saying “yes” and then demonstrating you are miserable doing what you agreed to. This is a martyrdom training ground.
  • Pleading inadequacy by declaring that you would to say “yes” but you tried to respond to such a request once and failed.
  • Saying “yes” but then not actually doing what you agreed to. It doesn’t take long before others realize you can’t be trusted to follow through.

Ask yourself:

  • In what circumstances is it most difficult for you to say “no”? To whom is it hardest to say no?
  • What has influenced you with regard to saying “no”?
  • Have you had experiences when you have said “no” and regretted it?
  • What were the consequences?
  • Have you regrets about a missed opportunity or a damaged relationship?

Practice saying “no”

  • Assess the request: Is the request reasonable? Use your definition of reasonableness.. What are your values and your resources? Do you have the time, the skills, and the energy to do this? What are the consequences of saying “no”, for yourself and the requester.
  • Gather information you need: What do you need to know in order to make a decision?
  • Allow yourself time: You don’t need to answer at the time you are asked. It takes time to see the request through the lens of your needs, values, and resources.
  • Ask yourself: Do I really want to do this? Am I trying to please someone? Am I falling into one of the “yes” traps?
  • Practice: Say “no” with confidence. It is helpful to give a simple “no” rather than long winded statements filled with justifications. If you wish you explain, do it simply. Initially practice in low emotional situations.
  • Conviction: A “no” with eye contact and a firm but compassionate voice reinforces your conviction.
  • Repeat: Manual J. Smith in When I say no, I feel guilty, calls this the “broken record” technique. It does take practice to outlast a persistent requester.
  • Remind yourself: Have a poster on the back of your door or an index card in your wallet that says “It is okay to say no”.
  • Evaluate yourself: Did I face the issue? Did I avoid “detours to no”? How okay do I feel with my decision?
  • Reward yourself: For you, what would be a reward for saying “no” to demands that tax you?
  • Love yourself: Love yourself enough to set boundaries.
  • You only get one life. You have the right to choose how to use it. Saying “no” is often not easy. It is however, healthy and necessary. “Sometimes “No” is the kindest word.”

Recommended readings

Here are two popular classics:

When I say no, I feel guilty by Manual J. Smith

I particularly appreciate the author’s attention to “assertive rights” and specific skills that help accompany the expression of those basic rights. This best-seller is a first step to being able to say “no” without guilt. Whether you need to say “no” to your kids, your boss or your mother-in-law, this is an excellent guide.

Don’t say Yes when you want to say No: Making life right when it feels all wrong by Herbert Fensterheim.

This best- selling classic takes a somewhat different slant. It focuses on contexts in which you may want to be more assertive – social situations, marriage, sexual relations, family, and work setting. It provides many case examples and exercises.


Seriously interested in the role of assertiveness and mental health? This readable, academic article, “Assertiveness Training: A Forgotten Evidence-Based Treatment” in Clinical Psychology Science and Practice is an excellent overview of the research covering clinical problems, populations, and contexts.

Strategy of the Month:


The expression, “It is no time to learn to swim when you are drowning” fits here.

Rehearsing “no” in your mind to an anticipated request is not the same as saying “no” to someone who is standing in front of you.

Julie Murphy says, “Tone is the hardest part of saying no.” When we feel pressured to say “yes”, we may respond with defensiveness, annoyance, or with childlike submission. By practicing, we develop that ability to stay focused on the request and the answer. Writing out the rehearsal helps.

It is useful to practice saying “no” in situations that have low emotional overtones. What would one or two of those situations be for you? Perhaps it is as simple as how to say “no” to someone who wants you to have a second helping of desert. Write out your response. Practice it out loud in front of mirror or on a recording.

Move on to more challenging situations. Who is the person? What is the context? What do you see as the consequences for yourself and/or for the requester?

Then, write out your response. Short is good. A brief explanation may be appropriate. Review your rehearsal for the “detours to no””. Rewrite until you are satisfied. Practice. Invite someone that you trust to listen and provide you with feedback.

If you have issues about saying “no” in office contexts you may benefit from the use of a template. “Office ninjas” offers templates for responding to e mails asking you to do various things to which you want to respond politely to with a “no”.


Photo Question of the month


If YES and NO were in a game, what game would you name it?

In the above image who is winning, and write down why would you say that?



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