5 Tips For Knowing When and How to Say No

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have trouble saying “No.”

It’s just two little letters, one simple syllable… it should be the easiest thing in the world. But put me in front of a pushy salesman or someone in need, and the word “no” just sticks in my throat.

This has gotten me in hot water more than once. Saying yes to everyone all the time leaves me over-committed, tired and stressed and stretched to the limit. Sooner or later something’s gotta give. I end up having to cancel on someone, because I’m totally burned out and need a break. Which in turn can sometimes lead to hurt feelings and misunderstandings…

All because I couldn’t just say no in the first place.

After all, we human beings are social creatures. We want to fit in, to belong and be liked. And if you are a “people pleaser,” or just a generally kind, caring and sensitive person, then you hate to disappoint anyone. You tend to go along with what others want, to make them happy, to help them out. Saying no can feel too harsh and aggressive; you worry that the other person will feel rejected, or get upset.

But in reality, saying no is an important part of setting healthy boundaries, and being focused and intentional with your life.

Saying yes when you really should decline takes time away from your family and loved ones. It takes time away from your self, your goals and the things most important to you. Like a leaf on the wind, you are pushed and pulled this way and that, according to the needs and wishes of others.

Well it’s time to put a stop to that. It’s time to take control of your life, and your precious, precious time, and start spending it doing the things you love, with the ones you love.

And here are some simple but powerful tips to help you do just that!

Know When To Say No

First things first. Before you start flexing your no muscles, you’ve got to get clear about when to do so. Look for these 5 signs that indicate you need to say no, for your own good.

1. You’re Just Too Busy

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This one is easy, and it should be obvious. But some people are more likely to rearrange their schedule, and inconvenience themselves, before they will say no to someone else. (Been there, done that.)

Say you get invited to a party or event, something you really would like to attend – but you’ve already made other plans. Or maybe you get a tempting new client, or business opportunity – but your workload is already the size of Mt. Everest.

Or maybe you get a call from a friend asking you for a ride, right in the middle of your workday — and they just won’t take no for an answer. “What do you mean you’re busy? You work from home! Come on, it’ll just take a second…” (You freelancers know what I’m talking about.)

If saying yes means you have to lose sleep working late, or sacrifice time with your kids or your partner, or shuffle things around in your already crazy schedule – don’t do it. It’s just not worth it. Be honest with them, be honest with yourself, and just say no.

2. You Feel Guilty or Obligated

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How many times have you said yes to something because you felt obligated to? Or because you felt guilty saying no? If you’re anything like me, the answer is probably: way too many.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could have all that time back? Well, I can’t help you there, sorry. But you can make sure that you don’t get caught in that particular trap again.

It starts with being more mindful, more aware of how you feel, and what motivates you. And whenever you notice feelings of guilt and/or obligation, let that be a sign to stop and think things through. Don’t let these emotions make your decisions for you – that road always leads to frustration, resentment and regret.

Instead, look for a valid reason why you should go through with it. Is the person asking truly important to you? Is it for a cause that you genuinely believe in and are passionate about? If so, you might decide to go ahead and say yes – and do it for the right reasons, not out of guilt.

But if you can’t find a good reason, chances are that it’s time to give this obligation to someone else. Do yourself a favor, and decline.

3. You’re Being Used

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We all know at least one person who seems to live in a state of perpetual crisis. Every time you talk to them, they have some emergency going on. They never call you or think of you unless they need something from you – and they’re really good at persuading you to give it to them.

There’s another word for that kind of persuasion: it’s called manipulation. And for some people, it’s a way of life.

These people never learn to take responsibility for themselves and solve their own problems, because they always manage to convince someone else to do it for them. They take and take and take until you’ve finally had enough, then they move on to the next sucker.

Don’t let it happen to you. If you find yourself faced with someone who is always using you, manipulating you, and taking you for granted, you need to say no, and you need to say it firmly.

4. You Get A Bad Feeling

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Sometimes the instant someone asks you to do something, you’ll feel a strong reaction in the pit of your stomach, either for good or ill. Don’t ignore that response. That’s your intuition.

Now the thing about intuition is that it isn’t rational, and it doesn’t always make sense. In fact, it usually doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Many of the most successful people in history – from Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to Oprah Winfrey and Albert Einstein – say that listening to their intuition was a key to their success.

And it can save you a lot of trouble, too. When you get a bad feeling about something, put on the brakes. You don’t have to understand why, and you don’t have to explain – just say no.

There’s a deeper intelligence that lies behind our gut feelings, and you’ll be much happier if you learn to listen to it.

5. You Just Aren’t Excited

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The first four criteria won’t apply to many of the decisions we make in life. We’re given offers, invites, and choices almost every day, in which we’re not being used or manipulated, and we’re not overwhelmingly busy. There are no red flags, and no obvious reasons for saying no.

But the fact remains if you say yes to all of them, you’ll still end up with very little time for yourself, and all your projects and plans and big dreams won’t amount to much of anything. Staying focused means saying no, and the ultimate rule for when to say no is this:

It’s either “Hell yes!” or no.

Basically, if you aren’t truly excited by it, don’t do it. If it doesn’t make you wanna shout, “Hell yes!” and leap for joy, then forget it. Whether it’s an evening with friends, or a business venture, or even a new relationship – if your reaction is anything less than “Wow! Yes! Absolutely!” then you should say no.

Your time is too precious to spend on the mediocre. Don’t settle for anything less than awesome. It’s either “Hell yes!” or no.

How to Say No

So now you’re clear on when you need to say no… now comes the hard part. You’ve got to, you know, actually say it. Out loud. To someone else. For some people (like me) this can be really difficult and uncomfortable.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. You can do this! And following these 5 steps will make it so much easier.

1. Don’t Over Think It

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When you need to tell someone no, do it quickly. Don’t put it off. This just gives your mind time to agonize over it, imagining worst case scenarios and making mountains out of mole hills.

Don’t overthink it. Don’t make it worse than it already is. Just tell them and get it over with.

99 percent of the time the other person’s reaction will not be half as bad as you thought it would. Because 99 percent of people are actually decent, kind and understanding, deep down. They know that you have your reasons, and they respect that.

As for the other 1%, they’re crazy. No amount of planning and preparation can prepare you for the crazies, so don’t waste time worrying.

2. Stand Up Straight

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This might sound silly, for me to talk about posture in an article about how to say no. But hear me out.

We all know that our body language expresses how we are feeling, right? Our state of mind influences the way we move, and how we hold ourselves. But research studies have repeatedly shown that it actually works both ways.

What that means is that by changing our posture and our body language, we can actually change our state of mind, and how we feel. Assuming a confident posture will actually make you feel more confident – and that can come in really handy when you need to tell someone no.

Stand (or sit) up straight, with your shoulders back and your head held high, and your feet firmly planted on the ground. Feel the power and confidence that this stance conveys. Own it, make it yours.

Now take a deep breath, and proceed to step 3.

3. Be Direct

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A lot of advice out there on the web offers different phrases to use on different occasions, all carefully crafted to be polite and respectful… and let’s face it, soft. Like, “Now is not a good time for me…” Or “I wish I could, but…”

Forget all that. Trying to soften the blow only makes you sound weak, and it encourages more aggressive and persistent people to keep asking, hoping to wear you down, make you feel guilty, and ultimately manipulate you into changing your mind.

This is no time to beat around the bush. Don’t mince words or make excuses. Be direct. If no is what you mean, then by all means say it! The word “No” has power and authority – use it. In fact I recommend that “No” should be the first word out of your mouth.

It’s not mean. Really, it’s not! It’s just a clear and decisive answer, and it discourages guilt tripping, manipulation and all the rest.

4. Keep It Short and Sweet

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Don’t go on and on about how busy you are, what you’re up to, why you can’t make it and how sorry you are. You don’t need to explain yourself or give excuses.

Likewise, don’t let yourself get roped into the other person’s long, drawn out story either. Sometimes it’s genuine, heartfelt sharing; other times it’s just a stalling tactic, to string you along while they plan a new angle of attack. Either way, you don’t have time for all that. You’re busy, remember?

So keep it short and sweet. “No, I can’t.” is plenty. If they keep right on going, use an exit strategy. Like, “I’m sorry, I need to go. I’m right in the middle of something.” Be firm, and be prepared to repeat yourself if need be.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

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Like all things, saying no gets easier the more you do it. So be sure to practice, and watch as your anxiety and discomfort fade away, to be replaced by a new sense of clarity and confidence.

Do you have trouble saying “no” to people? Put these strategies to work in your life, and tell me your results. Share your struggles, tips and success stories in the comments below.

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