How To Say No And When To Say It

Photo by cottonbro

Saying ‘no’ can be challenging because you do not want to offend anyone. You may be concerned about how the effect of declining to help can take a negative toll on your relationship; perhaps you will lose favour. But being able to know when to say yes and when to say no is a valuable life skill that you need to develop. It can help you determine when to take advantage of the best opportunities that come your way and when to pass up those that are a waste of your time and talents.

Why do we say yes rather than our intended no?

Here are some reasons:

  • We want to keep our relationships as social creatures who want to be part of the herd. 
  • We do not want to be perceived as selfish. 
  • We want to gain acceptance and protect ourselves from social rejection. 
  • We feel guilty after saying no. We constantly blame ourselves even when the decision to say no is reasonable.
  • Fear of missing opportunities – We believe that if we say no now, we will be losing some prospects.

However, the desire to seek acceptance varies across the population, depending on various circumstances, which can influence your tendency to be a yes man (or woman). Self-esteem is perhaps the most straightforward determinant of the need to seek acceptance. People with low self-esteem are more likely to engage in people-pleasing behaviours, such as being unable to decline other people’s requests.

The act of declining starts with placing value on yourself. It does not make you less loving and caring. Learning to say no helps you to accept your worth and prioritise your opinion over other people’s views. Not being able to say no shows the absence of boundaries and can lead to several psychological symptoms such as anxiety disorders, impulsive disorders, guilt problems, shame, and depression. Mastering the art of saying no is beneficial to your mental health. Self-care starts with being able to say no. It allows us to create a fulfilling, meaningful life on our terms.

How do you say no and gain control over your life?

Consider your boundaries

A boundary is a line that separates what is acceptable from what is not. Take into account your physical, emotional, and mental limits. Privacy, space, and your body are all examples of physical boundaries. It may be influenced by your personal preferences and philosophies, your culture and other factors such as your faith. It is important to note that you are responsible for your boundaries to yourself and not to others. To jump-start the discovery process of creating boundaries, ask yourself the following questions whenever you are unsure how to proceed:

  • Will saying yes keep me from concentrating on something of more importance?
  • Do my values, beliefs, and goals align with this potential project, opportunity, or activity?
  • What are my fundamental values, beliefs, and current objectives?
  • Will saying yes make me feel even more exhausted?
  • Will saying yes be beneficial to my mental health? Will it make my symptoms worse?
  • When have I said yes and then regretted it in the past?
  • When am I more likely to accept a request that I would prefer to decline? How can I overcome these obstacles?

Whenever anyone asks you to do something, which goes against your values, you must stop the process and decline. Your boundary lines are worth defending.

Pay attention to your emotions

Your emotions can tell you where you should set your limits. Anything that causes you resentment or discomfort should be a red flag. Anger can also be the result of exceeding your boundaries. If a situation or a personal interaction causes you to feel resentful or uncomfortable in an unreasonable way, consider what is causing that feeling.

Do you feel exploited or underappreciated? Are you acting accordingly because of someone else’s expectations of you? Resentment and discomfort can be indicators that you are not setting limits where they should be.

Practise saying no

It takes time and practice to learn when to say no, and you can hone your skills gradually to recognise situations where you can and should decline. Practice saying no clearly so the person you’re speaking with isn’t lost and believes you’ll say yes later.

A vacillating response can make the conversation awkward and the person requesting confused. ‘Do they want me to make any other suggestions or accommodations?’ Make your no crystal clear that no one can misinterpret your no as meaning ‘press some more’.

You can let the person or organisation know that you appreciate their gesture but you cannot fulfil their request. When you say no, be respectful.

 What phrases can we use to say no without raising the dust?

‘Unfortunately, I’ll have to decline this.’

‘Unfortunately, I cannot.’

‘No, I’m not capable of doing that.’

‘I’m sorry, my friend, but I can’t.’

‘Thank you, but that won’t work for me.’

What phrases robe us into ambiguity when we say no?

‘Um, I’m not sure.’

‘I’m not certain.’

‘It’s difficult to say.’

What about the phrases we can use to say ‘no’ when we do not have time?

‘I’m swamped right now.’

‘I won’t be able to make it work because my bandwidth is limited.’

‘I’m overburdened.’

‘I’m at the end of my rope now and must cancel.’

‘My schedule is completely booked.’

‘I won’t be able to because I’m working on a project right now.’

‘I’m flattered you asked, but I simply cannot.’

‘Thank you for considering me. However, I am unable to do so.’

‘I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to fit this in.’

‘Regrettably, I already have plans. Perhaps, next time!’

‘No, thank you; however, it sounds lovely.’

‘I’m just too tired right now.’

‘I have a lot on my plate right now.’

Do not forget that your mind, your health and your well-being are of utmost importance. Strive for simplicity and clarity when communicating. Practice assertiveness in all aspects of your life until it becomes second nature.

Take the time necessary to make the best decision

If you are unsure whether saying yes is a good idea, tell the person asking that you are unsure. Then set aside some time, perhaps even a few days, to reflect, research, and seek advice. Consider the pros and cons, and then return to the conversation with a clear mind.

Do not belabour the point

Long-winded explanations for why you can’t do something rarely make matters easy. Instead, choose a short, simple, and direct approach to saying no.

Why is it necessary to say no?

  • Boundaries are created by saying no. Boundaries exemplify what you accept in a relationship. They are essential for relationships in general as well as mental health. A healthy relationship has both clear boundaries and mutual respect. Setting limits and respecting others can help you keep your relationships strong.
  • You cannot take care of others unless you first take care of yourself. If you are accustomed to taking care of others, it may be difficult to imagine how to say no. You are used to thinking about others and ensuring that everyone is safe. Learning to say no is an essential component of self-care. Setting boundaries will give you the physical and emotional reserves needed to continue caring for others while not losing yourself.
  • Saying yes all the time can keep you from attaining your objectives. Even the most productive individuals are aware of their limitations. You cannot achieve your goals with minimal effort. Maintain your dreams by taking care of your body and mind.
  • Saying no teaches you how to assert yourself. Assertive people voice their opinion and express their needs and desires. Besides, to enact change, you first convey your thoughts. Consider saying no as a form of training for developing assertiveness!

When we are open about our feelings, needs, and limitations, it leads to healthier, more authentic relationships. Saying no and respecting your feelings and limits also contribute to a healthy you. Setting a limit is paramount to being the best and loveliest version of yourself. Understanding how to say no is a skill that will serve you well for the rest of your life, whether at home or work. One of the most self-loving things you can do for yourself is prioritising your needs.

Keywords: Say no, saying no, learning to say no, how to say no


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