How to Learn to Say No When You Care About Other People’s Feelings but Want to be True to Yourself
When I got pregnant for the first time I got way better at saying no.
I loved my newfound clarity about what was and wasn’t allowed into my life and I knew I wanted to hold onto it even after the baby was out.
So, I’ve been practicing ever since.
For me, saying yes has never been a stretch. It’s the “no’s” that have tripped me up.
If you’re a recovering “yes-aholic,” too, read on.
Here are my go-to strategies for saying a clear “no,” which is a gift to you and those around you. Because remember:
Saying yes just to please someone else isn’t a true yes. It’s not good for them, and it’s not good for you.
Don’t Say You’ll Do Things that You’re Not Going to Do
A woman walked up to me and asked me if I would review some of her work to give her my feedback. She was delightful, and I’m sure the piece she wanted my eye on was equally wonderful. However, I knew it would sit in my inbox, and I would delay looking at it. And it would bug me. And cause mental friction. And after all the delaying and hemming and hawing, if I did get around to reviewing it, I wouldn’t give it my best attention.
Why? Because it’s not a priority for me. Because I have several of my own projects that are requesting my immediate attention. Because it felt like a no. (By the way, something feeling like a no is reason enough. Those other justifications are nice if they’re true, but they’re not necessary.)
A no is a no is a no. No reason required.
In the past I would have told her to email me and I’d see what I could do. Then I might have let her down over email.
Instead, I told her the truth in real time. I said that, while I loved what she was up to, I didn’t want to tell her I would do something that I know deep down isn’t a priority for me right now. It felt uncomfortable to say, but I said it politely and kindly. It felt freeing, too. We both knew where we stood. I wished her the best and gave her some other resources she might find helpful.
Take home message: if someone asks you to do something and you immediately know that you won’t, don’t say that you will. It doesn’t serve you and it doesn’t serve them. Keep it clean, people.
There’s No Need to Give a Reason
Your no does not require justification. Here’s a great sentence you can use, inspired by my friend Andrea Equihua:
“Thank you for your invitation/offer/request. I’m not able to do it at this time, but if that changes, I’ll let you know.”
Gracious. Kind. Simple. Clear. Non-apologetic.
You don’t have to apologize for not being able to fit into someone else’s agenda. You don’t have to give 57 reasons why it doesn’t work. You can say it politely while still giving a simple no.
Give Yourself Time
There are moments when someone asks you to do something, and you don’t know whether or not you can or want to.
There are also moments when you’re caught off guard when someone asks you to do something in person, and a direct “no” feels like too much of a stretch. (This is often the case when your “no” muscles are still developing.)
These are moments when asking for 48 hours to get back to the person is ideal.
They feel acknowledged. You don’t feel cornered.
Then you can give yourself a moment to check in while you’re not in their presence and get clear.
You can also take the time to compose a response that’s polite, kind, and respectful if it is indeed a no. When you’re just starting out practicing saying no, coming up with this kind of response in the moment can be quite challenging. Giving yourself a day or two helps you get your wits about you.
If It’s Not a Hell Yes…
You’ve likely heard this one before, but it’s one I remind myself of nearly daily, so it’s worth repeating.
If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.
That’s it. It works the same on choosing where to eat dinner as it does who you’re going to marry.
The Gift of Your No
The gift of your no is that everyone in your life knows that when you do say yes, it’s real. They know where they stand with you. It puts everyone at ease.
And you honoring your “yes’s” and your “no’s” means that you get to trust yourself more and more, each and every day. Since you’re the only one you’ll be spending your entire life with, that’s a pretty big deal.
May we all have the cojones to say no when we mean no and yes when we mean yes. And may we all have the courage to keep the volume turned up on that voice that always knows. It serves us, and it sure serves the world.
Want to practice saying no together? I’m hosting The NO Challenge and we start in a couple of weeks. For 8 days, we’ll say no to 1 thing a day and by the end of it, you won’t even recognize yourself you’ll be so liberated.Join The NO Challenge.
Over to You:
Have you ever said yes when you really meant no? What did it feel like? What are your “saying no” strategies? This is a growth edge for many in our community, so please share your best tips in the comments below!