Practicing How to Say No

Saying no is a learned skill for most of us. Driven by a desire to please others, or trying to avoid rejection and feelings of guilt, we say yes when we really want to say no. Here are some important tips to developing healthy boundaries and learning how to say no when we really want to say no.


1) Notice Your Past Nos. There have been times I’ve had to say no and it was very difficult. But honestly, what I thought was going to be the consequence of my no didn’t happen. Yes, I might have been a little uncomfortable, but nothing near what I thought would happen happened. As I’m writing this, and remembering so many situations in my life, hardly ever did I suffer the repercussions I that thought I would. Now, of course, it’s hard to forget the times when I said no and the other person got really upset and angry with me. But the truth is, most of the time, if we will say no, there won’t really be any bad consequences. The whole world won’t fall apart and neither will your relationship. I know memories can scar us and make us hesitant to try again, but keep those few times people blew up at you, stormed away, or never spoke to you again in a realistic perspective to all the times and situations where nothing happened—other than you got to enjoy the freedom of saying no because you meant no and you got to enjoy the result of your no.

And watch how others handle these situations effectively. When you’re polite and empathetic, it is unlikely that someone is going to get furious with you.

You want to develop good boundaries. Have an idea of what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not ahead of time so that decisions are easier and you’re not as tempted to cave. But this all takes time. And maybe someone is asking you for something unreasonable right now. So what should your default response be so that you don’t give them a knee-jerk “yes” you’ll regret later?

2) Buy Time For Yourself. You don’t need to feel you have to respond immediately. Now, I realize there are some situations where you have to especially when it’s your boss, but generally speaking you wouldn’t need to. So when you feel pressured for a yes, don’t give the yes right away. Tell them you need more time. It’s a key to relieving some of the pressure. This will allow you to calm down and properly evaluate whether you really want to agree or not. The best way to do this is to memorize a few phrases and make them your default responses when you get into one of these situations:

1) “I need to check my calendar and I’ll get back to you.”

2) “Let me check with my husband or wife to see what we have going on.”

3) “I’ve got to think about that and I’ll let you know later. I’ll can call you back soon.”

As you begin to incorporate these into your interactions, be careful not to turn them into questions. They are statements—statements designed to help you succeed at saying no. And when you speak them, use a pleasant but assertive tone.

But what if buying time doesn’t cool you down enough to be comfortable giving them a big ol’ nope? Train yourself to live by certain consistent principles that are healthy. For example, if someone invites you over for a Sunday cookout, and Sunday is family day when you and your immediate family always get together for dinner, state the principle that you and your family have created: “Thank you for the invitation, but Sunday is family day and we never miss. Maybe some other time.” When you live by clear principles, it’s easier to make decisions and people are more likely to respect your responses. And there’s less chance of someone feeling personally rejected if it’s clear this is a healthy habit you live by consistently.

So how do you deal with people who don’t take no for an answer? Be a broken record. Tell them you can’t help them. Then keep repeating what you said. This is called a verbal boundary. The conversation might go something like this:

Them: “Can you go shopping with me and help me find new furniture for my downstairs den?

You: “Sorry, I can’t.” Now just make sure that your tone shows that you care. But still be honest and keep saying the same thing.

Them: “What if we went tomorrow instead of next week? You available then?”

You: “Sorry, I can’t.”

Them: “I’ll give you my furniture from that room if you go with me?

You: “Sorry, I can’t.”

This technique teaches you persistence and doesn’t allow people to talk you out of what you truly feel comfortable doing. Just keep repeating the same thing to them and not responding to their new angles or reasoning. Don’t get angry or raise your voice. Just calmly repeat yourself until the other person is utterly exhausted. You can tell the maturity and health of a relationship in how the other person responds when you say no or when they say no to you.

It’s so important to have this kind of respect for your own boundaries and for other people’s boundaries if your relationships are truly going to be healthy. It’s so freeing to be able to say no and feel comfortable in doing it. If you’re not there yet, just keep practicing the steps and pay attention to how people respond when you say no. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised that you don’t get that many negative reactions. It will also cause your relationships to be much more fulfilling.

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