How to Say No

How to Say No Respectfully

How to Say No

Saying “Yes to everything and everyone can be exhausting, it can also lead to feelings of resentment and feeling trapped. Saying Yes, when you would really deep down like to say not, diminishes the time that you have for yourself and the important people you have around you.

Frequently saying “Yes”, focuses your time and energy on other people’s priorities, whilst your own fall by the wayside. Sometimes this can turn off your ability to listen to yourself and what feels right for you. This can result in anxiety or depression, when you value others needs before your own, your inter-self becomes fractious and feels overwhelmed.

It is possible to learn how to say no gracefully and firmly, whilst maintaining the relationship and making it clear that the no is request specific. A neutral “no” is clear and steady, not apologetic, reluctant or overly nice.

Saying “No” can bring up emotions, being successful in delivering that no depends on your ability to manage those emotions. You may be worried about damaging the relationship and no may feel synonymous with confrontation. You may respond reflexively with a “Yes” to avoid; a twinge of guilt, or regret, anxiety, a ‘should’ message, or confrontation. Being more comfortable with discomfort can help to train yourself to resist that automatic response. Being mindful and aware of the discomfort provoked by saying “no” enables you to start learning to tolerate and sit with the feelings and not feel compelled to take action to eliminate them.

How to Say No

Here are some ideas, I share with my clients to help them listen to what feels right for them and when appropriate, provide some strategies, on how to say No.  When you value yourself first, this invites others to follow your lead, saying No creates space in your own life for a more intentional yes.

Listen to yourself  

Spend some time listening to your inner-self, ask yourself what are you presently committing to, that you don’t want to do? Identify what is important, work out what you want to spend your time doing. Once you know what you do want, it is much easier to say “no” with confidence.

Buy yourself some time

Anxious feelings generated by the possibility of saying “no” can produce a fight, flight or freeze response. This emotional sate diminishes your capacity for rational thought, necessary for considering options. Slowing down this emotional response is essential; to enable you to make a considered choice and not just say “yes” to alleviate your anxiety in the moment. Breathing in for seven and out for eleven will help you get back in control of your rational brain.

Don’t feel you have to respond to a request for help in that moment; you can buy yourself some time, to work out if this is something you want to do. Using some strategies like, “I’m not sure about that date, can I come back to you”, or “can I have a think about it”, or “I’ll let you know” or “I’m not sure I can”

Saying “no”

Acknowledge the compliment that they’re asking for your help, thank them for thinking of you or making the request/invitation. This does not need to lead to a “yes”.

Saying “no” to the request, not the person

Saying “no” does not mean that the person will reject you, in fact they may respect you more. Be clear that on this occasion, this is not possible for you, however maybe you can offer an alternative that feels better for you.


Don’t feel you have to go into detail as to why you cannot meet their request, but where appropriate offer your reason, maybe you’re too busy, maybe you don’t feel that what they’re asking you to do is within your capabilities, maybe you have another commitment that day, be honest about why you are saying “No”.

Be as resolute as they are pushy

Some people don’t realise they are being pushy or don’t give up easily, they may have learned early on not to take no for an answer and feel like pushovers if they do. Or they might get angry, push back, or go silent, because that’s how they always handle hearing no. Give yourself permission to value your needs just as much as they are valuing their own. They’ll respect you for it. You can use divergent tactics to change the subject if you have already said “no”, let your no be your no, this is a boundary. You can make light of the situation, or gently reiterate your “no”.


Choose some easy, low-risk situations in which to practice saying no. Say no when someone tries to sell you something on the street. Go into a room by yourself, shut the door, and say no out loud ten times. It sounds crazy, but building your no muscle helps.

Ascertain a pre-emptive no

There will be certain people in your life who repeatedly to make burdensome requests. Let them know that you are busy or focused on other commitments, and that you are trying to reduce your obligations in other areas. In the workplace set clear definitions or expectations and get them in writing that way, when other requests start to roll in you can refer back to previous agreements.

Be prepared to miss out

Do you hate to miss an opportunity? This can make saying “no” difficult, as saying no always leads to a missed opportunity. You may also tend to say “yes” out of fear that turning down this opportunity even once, sends the message that you’re not interested, and that will prevent any additional chances in the future. You may say yes to keep all your options open, however, inevitably, this will result in over commitment, feeling exhausted, disappointing others. Prioritise opportunities knowing you cannot possibly do it all. Saying no means saying yes to something that you value more, both are possibilities, but you are choosing the one that feels better for you.

Be courageous

If you are used to saying yes, it will take courage and practice to learn how to say no. Saying “No” may mean you feel bad, or that you are letting someone else down, that you are not meeting their expectations of you. Maybe you will worry that they will talk about you in a negative way or they won’t like you anymore.

Remembering that the other person is an adult and has their own resources to get their needs met and that you are not responsible for them, will help with these negative feelings. Reclaiming your life may come at a cost as others may feel disgruntled that you have stepped out from being their Savior.

There is a saying which I find helpful – “Anyone can give offense, but you can choose whether you take it or not!” – Your counterpart may not always handle hearing “no” the way you’d hoped. If people choose to take offense because you have chosen your own needs above theirs, then is this something you need to feel responsible for?

It maybe circumstances that make it particularly difficult for your counterpart to accept your no, someone who may be able to deal with a “no” in private could feel embarrassed to hear it in front of others and may want to save face.

When you respect your boundaries others will too, without resentment, but you may have to let go of something yourself – the sense that you are only valuable if you do everything for everyone….. and learn how to say no …..