Are You Rubbish at Saying No? We All Need To Know How To

Are you rubbish at saying “No”? I have been until recently.

For many years I wanted to say “Yes” all the time because I found this is what others want to hear. You’d think getting older and wiser would make a difference. But here I am still agreeing and being positive when lots of times I find myself regretting saying “Yes” when I actually mean “No”.

It’s particularly difficult to refuse a request from a friend. The problem this creates is we then risk overloading ourselves. 

I’m always guided to help and be positive – but there are times when giving way is not the right way. If you take on more responsibility when you’re busy this will increase your stress levels, you risk not delivering on your promise, then things start to unravel – and you feel bad.

So I have started saying “No” when I realise it won’t work – and I’ve found if I do it with thought and care, it can be more beneficial.  Not just to me but to those asking. 

So how does this work?

It’s vital to grasp the nettle and say no firmly and clearly, yet in a way that causes minimal offence. Here are the three stages to do that.

Buy time

Firstly buy time. If someone you know and like asks you for your help, your immediate response is to do so and it feels impossible to say no. But if their request gives you pause and doesn’t fit with your situation, it’s quite likely to cause exhaustion to you and resentment from them – which can strain your relationship.  If this is the case look thoughtful and then say “Thanks for asking. I’ll check my diary and get back to you”. Give it an hour or a day to allow emotions to settle and logic to play its part before making your decision.

Being someone who doesn’t automatically say “yes” is no bad thing.

Consider your delivery

The second part of dealing with rejecting someone’s request is to consider how you deliver a negative message.

Many cannot say “No” face to face. Today emails, texts and phone messages are the way many do this. You could. But I’d like to think you’re better than that.

In C21 we’ve become used to being rebuffed and rejected electronically. However these modern methods ignore the principles of human communication laid down over thousands of years. Plus they are also be considered by many as frankly bad manners.

In his 1978 groundbreaking book “Manwatching – A Field Guide to Human Behaviour” Desmond Morris stated only 7% of any message we receive are the actual words. All the rest is what we absorb via our senses. Is it any wonder then that so many misunderstandings occur through texts and emails?

So, if you really care about the person you’re saying no to, allow a little time to elapse from their request then sit them down opposite you over a coffee, look them in the eye, take their hand if appropriate – and say no. 

If you can’t do that you’d never make a Police Officer. They are the experts in delivering bad news.

Rookie officers are given the task of delivering “death warnings” early in their career. Knocking on someone’s door and saying to a complete stranger “I’m sorry but your loved one is dead” is a basic test of their ability to deal. If they do this well they are judged to be able to cope with everything else. 

You can imagine delivering this awfulness is a most horrendous task which cannot be taught in training school. It just has to be experienced on the job. Their more experienced colleagues tell them to do it simply.

1. Go in and sit down. 2. Deliver the message. 3. Leave.

Like them, the golden rule is to be straightforward and at no stage appear indecisive.

Turn them down – kindly

So when you reach the third stage of actually delivering the unwelcome message, whoever makes the request may try to talk you out of it. However you should turn them down kindly but firmly saying “thank you for asking me but I have to say no”.

That’s the key word. “No”.  It’s a hard word to say. Practise now by saying it in a kindly but firm voice.

The initial reaction will be difficult for both of you. However the chances are far greater the person receiving your negative message will understand and appreciate your decision because of the care in which you delivered it.

Plus when you next decide to say Yes, I suspect your recipient will value it so much more.


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Barbara-Anne hunter
Barbara-Anne hunter
3 years ago

I used to be a real people pleaser, when my husband left I fell back into studying, now on my second degree and signed up for a third I have the perfect excuse, ‘I’m sorry I have an essay to write’, it gets me out of anything I don’t want to do leaving me time to do the things I enjoy

3 years ago

Hello. Yes I agree, it’s difficult if you’re a people pleaser!
Please can we have some recognition that although most post retirement women are indeed having the time of their lives, quite a few of us still have elderly parents to care for. I try not to be envious of friends who can go anywhere, anytime, but this is not my situation. I still have a good life, but cannot imagine the freedom that most of my contemporaries enjoy! If I read one more magazine article about how this is the best time,be your best self, take up lots of activities….I will scream!
Just saying……..

3 years ago
Reply to  Jenny

We understand exactly what you are saying. Grace is currently looking after elderly parents. Her mother is in hospital, right now, for the second time in 6 months and she had to drop everything to be there for her. Sadly my parents died a few years ago but I did write about those last months quite a lot at the time. Here is an example of one of the many posts I wrote ~
We also do try and write articles to help those in the same situation. Our most recent one ~ and this post from a guest writer who wrote about a website that is a resource for those caring for elderly relatives ~
I hope that helps. I do remember feeling I was juggling so many balls rushing daily to my mother’s bedside and then coming home to look after a teenager and husband whilst still writing for our website. It was probably one of the worst times of my life, not the best! I had no freedom and so little time if any to do anything for myself.

The positive articles that we publish about this time may not apply to you right now and we apologise if you feel there are too many. We will attempt to rectify the balance!
Best A&G

3 years ago

Thank you both. I wasn’t commenting about your website, I really enjoy it all, very nice diversion! It was a general feeling of frustration ,I am tired of constantly being told about how this is my best time,because it’s not! Thank you for your kind response