How to Say 'No'

Have you ever found yourself thinking 'no, no, no' and then blurted out a 'yes'?

Have you ever found yourself so busy but still agreeing to do something else?

Have you ever wondered why you are saying yes when all you really want to do is say no?

Some of us have an inexplicable need to please other people, and therefore struggle to say no to other for a fear of letting them down, being rejected by the other, or being thought of badly.

Saying no doesn't mean that you are a bad person. Saying no actually shows how you value your own time, space, and energy. You cannot possibly say yes to everyone - and if you try to you will quickly find yourself burning out. Also, the more you say yes to others, the more people expect you to say yes, and the harder it is to say no.

Why is saying 'No' so hard?

If we think about how we were raised, we can start to understand why it is so hard to say no to others. When we are growing up, it is often frowned upon to say no to our parents or teachers. We are asked to do something and expected to follow instructions.

If we refused to do something that a teacher or parent asked of us, we would be viewed as a naughty kid. We would probably have been told off or told that we were being rude.

As adults, we can sometimes struggle to let go of these belief patterns and end up overextending ourselves in order to be liked by others.

Understand your worth

As mentioned, saying 'no' is a symbol of valuing yourself, your time, and your energy. There is only so much time in each day and if we say yes to lots of things that we don't want to do, we don't have time for the things that we want to do.

Obviously there are some things that we can't say no to - we need to do our jobs, raise our kids, and so on. But there are something - favours - that others ask of us that we feel obligated to say yes to. For example, staying late at work to work on a project, doing jobs that aren't in your job description, being on boards or panels within your work or children's school that take up time but don't actually give you anything.

Once we start to understand our worth and the value of our time, we can start to see the value in saying no to others. You might say no to being on a school board so that you can spend more time with your kids. You might say no to going to a distant relative's baby shower so that you can spend some time working on your side-business. You might say no to starting a side business so that you can spend some time recharging in front of the TV each night.

It doesn't matter what it is, as long as you are prioritising yourself and your time.

You don't need to provide a reason

Something that is really difficult, especially for s Brits, is to turn someone down without explaining why. We find ourselves saying something along the lines of 'Sorry, I can't come to your event because I have to go with my partner to his mother's friend's sister's kid's birthday party.' or 'Sorry I can't be the parent chaperone on that trip because I have a work-related event that I really can't get out of and if I try then my boss will....' and so on.

A revolutionary thought occurred to me at one point in time; it is none of their business.

If you can't do something or don't want to do something, then the person asking has no right to ask for a reason. Even if they ask you can just say 'I just can't' or 'it's personal'.

Obviously there are exceptions to this, such as your boss asking you to do something that is within your job description and within your work hours. But generally, you don't have to give a reason as to why you are saying no to something.

It is difficult to get out of the habit, but it is worth practising - just saying no - with no qualifier, no reason, no excuse.

Some quick tips:

  • Don't lie. If you lie, this can lead to guilt. And the guilt isn't actually because you said no, it is because you lied, but this can get confused and you end up feeling guilty for saying no.

  • Be polite. Saying something along the lines of 'thanks for asking, but I can't.' Again, this will lessen any guilt that might pop up as you are less likely to worry about being perceived as rude.

  • Don't leave things open-ended or open to interpretation. Saying something like 'I'll think about it' or 'I can't right now but maybe later' will just prolong the situation. Be clear and concise.

  • Your self-worth does not depend on how much you do for other people or how busy you are or appear to be. You will actually see that your sense of self-worth may well increase as you say no to things that you really don't want to do.

  • You don't have to be busy in order to say no to something new. You can say no to going to a party or doing an extra job at work and just go home and watch Netflix. Downtime is important as well!

Perhaps we can learn from Warren Buffett, who said, "The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything."

As always, if you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please email me at or use the Appointments tab in the menu.

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7 Hildreth Street Mews


SW12 9RZ

4 Staple Inn

Chancery Lane


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