No, Damnit! The Art of Saying “No”

It is difficult to disappoint the ones we love (or even just have to be around) and many of us have difficulty saying “no.” This can lead to taking on way more than we can handle and overfilling our plates till we are on the verge of a meltdown. Why do we have difficult saying no? And what are some easy ways to overcome it?

According to we don’t want to slap people with a “hell no” for a variety of reasons including:

  1. You want to help. You are a kind soul at heart. You don’t want to turn the person away and you want to help where possible, even if it may eat into your time.
  2. Afraid of being rude. I was brought up under the notion that saying “No”, especially to people who are more senior, is rude. This thinking is common in Asia culture, where face-saving is important. Face-saving means not making others look bad (a.k.a losing face).
  3. Wanting to be agreeable. You don’t want to alienate yourself from the group because you’re not in agreement. So you confirm to others’ requests.
  4. Fear of conflict. You are afraid the person might be angry if you reject him/her. This might lead to an ugly confrontation. Even if there isn’t, there might be dissent created which might lead to negative consequences in the future.
  5. Fear of lost opportunities. Perhaps you are worried saying no means closing doors. For example, one of my clients’ wife was asked to transfer to another department in her company. Since she liked her team, she didn’t want to shift. However, she didn’t want to say no as she felt it would affect her promotion opportunities in the future.
  6. Not burning bridges. Some people take “no” as a sign of rejection. It might lead to bridges being burned and relationships severed.

All of these reasons seem pretty reasonable when taken individually,but taking a look at this list it’s easy to see there is an excuse or feeling to say yes to everything. Thus, the dilemma. Here are a couple cool and nice ways to say no:

  1. “I would really like to do this for you but…” This tells the person that you understand them, that you actually want to help them but there are situations outside of your control. In essence, it takes the blame off of you.
  2. “I am sorry but…” This one can work best when it comes to business interactions or at a job. When someone is trying to get you to do something that is inconveniencing you, hit them with an “I’m sorry but…” Examples include: “I am sorry but I really cannot give you your prints until you have paid in full,” or “I am sorry but we cannot start building your site until you have signed the contract and we have received your deposit” – boring stuff like that.
  3. “You know that I always want to help you, but I might not be able to come through this time.” This type of saying no is for a friend or family member. You are letting them know you are in their corner and even though you might not be able to help them this time, it is not because you do not want to or that they should think they cannot turn to you again. You just can’t this time around.
  4. “There is no way I can help you with that at this time” This is for the pushy person, the whiner – someone who is always trying to get one last favor or assistance. Of course, this is a very direct way of saying no but totally worth it since you are being clear and they will know better than to keep pushing. For some people an “I don’t think so” isn’t enough. You are nicely saying, “no fucking way.”

Here are some other resources for saying no:

20 Ways to Say No

The Power of NO

12 Straightforward Ways to Say No


Do you ever struggle with saying “no”? Do you know anyone who is really good at it?

Renee Mitson I love blogging and social media. I obsess over tech, interior design, memes, cycling, and ridiculous fashion trends. From Providence, moved to Boston, Toronto is next this fall! Twitter: @reneemitson

View all posts by Renee Mitson

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