The Art of Saying No

To be honest, I’ve never been good at saying no to people.  I have worked late, taken on too many projects, loaned out money and put what I want to the side so that I can make others happy.  We are social creatures and we drive to preserve our relationships and are worried about disappointing those around us.  It sounds all fine and good but is a recipe for long-term unhappiness.

It is only in my recent years that I have really started to understand how important it is for the quality of my work and for my own happiness/ mental health to learn how to no.

So why is it important to learn how to say no?

Value your time and value yourself: Know what is at the top of your list and know what is important to you.  Your priorities and what you want matter.  You only have a finite amount of time and energy and if you are always saying yes to everything else, then you are never going to have that time and energy to dedicate to your goals.  All that Yes can lead to burn out.  This isn’t an improv troop.  It’s important to learn what to say no to and when we have taken too much on.

Be in the driver’s seat of your own life:  People who prioritize have more time, more control of their life and more money to do what they want because they tend to be able to prioritize things and give them 100%.  Think about all of those magazines, newspaper subscriptions and everything else that you just couldn’t say no to.

We think that we are more aggressive then we are:  Most of us think that saying no makes us seem mean but the truth is that a study done at Columbia University shows that we often feel like we are being assertive enough or over-assertive while other parties might see us being meek or under assertive.

How do I say no?

Practice:  Start saying no to smaller things.  Like when your coworkers want to go out and drink but you know that you need to be up the next morning.

“I don’t” instead of “I can’t”: refer to the example above.  You can say “I don’t go out on weeknights” which makes it seem far less up for debate then “I can’t”.  You don’t have to make it seem like you want to if you don’t.

Don’t offer an explanation/ do offer them an alternative:  You don’t have to give an explanation to people and when you do it sounds like rambling.  When it doesn’t sound like rambling, it often gives people a way to get you to do what they are asking.  For instance, if your coworker asks you to come out to a bar with them but loud bars aren’t your thing and you say that you are busy with a family thing…so they say the next night. Awkward. Instead, you can offer them an alternative.  Like going out for coffee instead.  The goal is to offer a compromise so you wont feel guilty but also wont be adding unneeded stress to your life.

Don’t apologize:  Its a natural reaction for some of us to start off saying not with “I’m sorry but…”  But you don’t need to apologize.  In fact, it makes us seem meek.  While most of our friends and co-workers won’t take advantage of us, some people will.  It’s important for us to know our worth or no one else will.  This doesn’t have to be mean but you do need to be firm.  Chances are if you are emotional, they are going to be too.  Remember you are not rejecting the person.  You are just saying no to the request.

But they are my boss:  Oh trust me.  We have all been in this situation before.  You think that you have to say yes to every request by your boss and the truth is you can’t say no to them like you would your friends.  Nor can you always say “I don’t work past 5.” like you would say “I don’t buy magazine subscriptions.”  But most bosses will understand if you can’t take on another project because you won’t be able to give the ones that you have your full attention.  If they still insist sit down with them and the list of projects you have and ask them which is the priority.  You have obligations, but you also have limits.


Being nice by saying yes to every favor, every loan and every taken shift might seem nice to start with but in the end, it can take its tool.  No, you cant work 7 days a week for a month and have any hope of giving 100%.  No, you can’t take one another project when you are already struggling with the ones you have.  In the end, saying yes to everything is actually bad for everyone involved.

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