The Art of Saying No

Think it’s easy to say no? It is just a little, tiny word – simple to say. So then why do so many people struggle with saying ”no”? Many of us avoid saying no and as a result, suffer from fatigue, stress, pain, and being overwhelmed. Many times, not being able to say no when we need to, affects us saying yes when we want to. So, here are a few pointers to help us say no tactfully and to help us stay more in control of our lives and our friendships.


The Sweet Talk No

Your friend invites you to their church service where they will be singing on Friday night. You already had made dinner plans. But, you try to figure out how you can do both. In the process, you are feeling quite stressed. You would rather say no, but you feel bad. What do you do?

Go ahead and sugarcoat your no with lots of “I’d love to” and “thanks for inviting me” and “thanks for thinking about me”, but in the end, you need to still say no.

Expert advice: Despite your concerns, many people aren’t actually bothered by being told no. If they feel any discomfort over your refusal it may be because they perceive your reaction to be one of indifference. If you say no, but include a positive action, you can make a big difference. For example, show your friend that you care even if you can’t go by sending a card—“Thinking of you”, or calling the next day to see how it went. The idea is to maintain your friendship without stressing yourself out.


The Bait-and-Switch No

Your friend calls and asks if you could help her shop for a new outfit. You know from experience that this could be an all-afternoon event. Or, your friend calls and asks if you want to take a long ride in the country. You have been feeling a little under the weather for the past couple of days and your kids are home on a school break and/or you just wanted to spend part of the day by yourself. What can you do?

Expert advice: Offering to do something else shows you care. In the long run, you want your friend to remember the friendship you both have and what it is like to have fun together. For example, you can say; “I am not able to shop today at the mall because I don’t have the time, but if you want to go to Wal-Mart instead, I can do that. Don’t feel bad that you need time for yourself, we all do. You don’t always need to explain yourself either!


The To-The-Point No

Your friend wants you to take them on an outing that would be lengthy or expensive (asking to go to Darien Lake or driving to Toronto for the day). Or, your friend calls and asks if they can stay with you for awhile. What do you do?

Expert Advice: Just say no! It is your right to decide what projects are appropriate for you and what outings you want to do with your friend or how much you are willing to give. When you signed up to be a volunteer, you signed up to be a friend to someone. When you would rather not participate in a project or an outing, it is better to just say gently, but clearly, that you won’t be able to help or go. Saying “let me think about it” or “I have to ask so and so first”, needlessly raises hopes that they can count on you, and the eventual letdown causes both sides undue grief.


The Explanatory No

Your friend’s mom asks if you can take along your friend’s 3 siblings. Or, your friend wants you to include his/her boy/girl friend on your visits together. You find either of these things very taxing (because you did say yes the first time) on your physical as well as your emotional well being – you came home after that first time and collapsed. Or, maybe it just made you feel uncomfortable. But since you said yes that first time, you feel that it is expected of you to do it again. What do you do?

Expert Advice: Everyone has their limitations, either physical or emotional, or both. It can be a bit uncomfortable trying to explain this to your friend, but in the long run, you will feel better and your friend will realize that you do have limits. Try saying “it’s too stressful on me” or “I feel uncomfortable when he comes along”. Call your volunteer coordinator for some specifics on what to do in your unique situation. If you do choose to handle this problem on your own, be gentle, kind, but firm. You may have to couple your “explanatory no” with another type of “no” (bait and switch, to the point, etc.).


The Silent No

Your calendar has been filled to the max lately. You’ve started a new job, you still have a college class you are completing and you have been spending a lot of time with your Compeer friend. Your friend is expecting you to spend the same amount of time with them that you did when you weren’t busy. Someone else is calling and asking you to volunteer for another committee. You are starting to feel the burn. Something has got to give. What do you do?

This is probably the most important “no”, because it is the no you tell yourself. Before you can begin to feel comfortable declining other people’s requests, you have to be able to tell yourself—NO. Be careful that you don’t follow your no with lashes of self-imposed guilt.

Expert Advice: Take a few minutes and evaluate what you are doing. Telling yourself that you cannot take on anymore projects—say until next September, that the amount of time you have been giving your friend is a little too much, is OK. You are at your best when you can focus your mental and physical energies on a few projects. Scattering yourself drains your energies too quickly and probably doesn’t give enough of you to any one project to make a significant difference. You decide how much you can give, then stick to it!


Remember, It’s always smart to say “no” when…

  • saying yes will cause you to forgo keeping yourself healthy .
  • your calendar is already packed to capacity.
  • you can’t remember the last time you took a day to do just nothing.
  • something or someone you care about will have to take a back seat.
  • you just don’t want to do it.
  • it allows you to say YES to something you really want to do.