the art of saying no

How To Say No With Confidence

Do you find it hard to say ‘no’? Commit to things just to be nice? Say ‘yes’ without thinking it through – and later regret it?

I hear you.

I’m a natural ‘yes’ person. I’m up for almost anything and always love to help. This makes me prone to overcommitting and begrudging the very things I said ‘yes’ to in the first place.

I’ve become a lot better about saying ‘no’ since reading ‘The Power of Less’ by Leo Babauta and subscribing to his Zen Habits newsletters. Here he shares his wisdom about The Art of Saying No.

First it’s good to know why we find it hard to say ‘no’:

1. You want to help. You’re a kind soul at heart. You want to help where possible, even if it eats into your time.

2. Afraid of being rude. Some of us are brought up to believe that saying ‘no’ is rude or inconsiderate.

3. Fear of conflict. You’re afraid they might be angry if you reject them, which could lead to negative consequences in the future.

4. Fear of lost opportunities. You’re worried saying ‘no’ means closing doors. You might not get asked again. (Or you might miss a really great party!)

5. Not burning bridges. Some people take ‘no’ as a sign of rejection. It might lead to bridges being burned and relationships severed.

If you nodded to any of the above reasons, I’m with you. But over time, I’ve realised they’re misconceptions.

Saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean you’re rude or disagreeable. Nor does it mean there’ll be conflict or lost opportunities. And it definitely doesn’t burn your bridges.

It’s how you say ‘no’ that affects the outcome.

You have your own priorities and needs, just like everyone else. Saying ‘no’ is about respecting and valuing your time.

If you struggle with how to say ‘no’, try Leo’s crib sheet. Use the one that best fits your situation:

1. ‘I can’t commit to this as I have other priorities at the moment.’

Use this if your plate is full at the moment. If it makes it easier, also share what you’re busy with so the person can understand better.

2. ‘Now’s not a good time. Can we make it another day?’

This is a great way to (temporarily) hold off the request. Firstly, you let the person know it’s not a good time. Secondly, the person doesn’t feel blown off.

3. ‘I’d love to do this, but …’

This is a gentle way of saying ‘no’. It’s encouraging as it lets them know you like the idea (of course, only say this if you do) and there’s nothing wrong about it.

4. ‘Let me think about it first and I’ll get back to you.’

This is more like a ‘maybe’ than a straight out ‘no’. If you’re interested but don’t want to say ‘yes’ just yet, use this. It gives you more time to think about it before committing.

5. ‘No, I can’t.’

The simplest and most direct way to say it. Don’t think so much and just say it outright.

Drop the guilt over saying ‘no’.

Once you learn to decline requests that don’t meet your needs, you’ll find how easy it actually is. Say ‘no’ to distractions or anything that takes you away from how you want to be spending your time. You’ll create more space for yourself and things that are most important to you.

Saying ‘no’ is liberating.

How about setting yourself a goal to Start Saying No? Sign up for free Monday Motivators below and I’ll help keep you on the straight and narrow 😉

What are you going to say ‘no’ to? Share in the comments below.

Image credit: Stuart Miles

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  1. Stacey on October 1, 2013 at 3:26 PM

    I honestly don’t have a hard time saying no to other people, but I struggle when it comes to my kids. Because we have a large family, I always try to make sure the children have equal opportunities to do sports etc. I don’t want the younger kids to get the shaft. But there is only one of me and I have had to learn that sometimes no just means, not right now. But oh the guilt! Mom guilt is always the hardest!

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 1, 2013 at 4:04 PM

      When you have a large family like yours (8 kids, right?!) there simply have to be compromises, but it’s understandable that you hope to give everyone equal opportunities. Maybe you can make it up to the younger ones by giving them more of you after the older ones fly the coop?! (Sorry, that must feel like an eternity away right now!) Hang in there Stacey and remind yourself that you are doing your best and your kids will no doubt give tribute speeches to how well you did one day 😉

  2. Immunity Boosters for Busy Mothers on February 2, 2014 at 11:27 AM

    […] Make decisions based on your values – learn to say no. Check out our tips on How To Say No With Confidence. […]

  3. […] Practise saying no to people and things that aren’t a priority for you. When you say yes to others, make sure you’re not saying no to yourself. […]

  4. James on February 23, 2021 at 11:21 AM

    Recently I have started a new job, unfortunately I’m being presented with a lot of mundane tasks, which I didn’t expect to be doing as I’ve been promoted, and was going more challenging work in my previous role.

    I have pushed back explaining I didn’t expect to be doing such tasks at my rank, but been told I need to be doing them to help my learning of my new team – therefore I’ve began to find it difficult to say no because of the fear of losing opportunities and that if I don’t do it I’m going to burn bridges with others in the team.

    It’s a challenging situation and I’m trying to use responses 3. and 4. from Leo’s crib sheet, as I don’t want to be outright dismissive of the work.

    I’m also trying to remind them that I’ve been brought in to perform a senior role, and challenging them by asking if they can justify delegating these small admin tasks that are normally done by someone in an entry level job.

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