how to say no

How To Say No To People (And Gain Their Respect For It)

You have to say “no” to a lot of good things, in order to be able to say “yes” to a lot of great things!

The magical internal feeling of saying “Yes” to someone.

It makes you feel important. Special even. After all, you are the go-to person for everyone around you. The one who has the solution to all problems. You hear the words “Thank you” and “I couldn’t have done it without you” on a consistent basis. Words that further fill you up with a sense of value, worth and an affirmation that you matter.

You are shooting your own productivity in the foot.

By making “no” a rare part of your dictionary you are putting other people’s needs ahead of yours. This is generally admirable, you are a nice human being and more people should be like you. However, your performance will suffer (if is not suffering already). Learning how to say “no” to people and opportunities is one of the most efficient skills you can develop.

Contrary to popular belief, saying “no” does not make you a not nice, or even a rude person. Not by a long shot. If done right, this simple word can make people respect you even more while simultaneously securing more time, focus, and energy for your own needs.

Why you should say “no” more often

You vs them

Your goals and your work are typically more important to you and will have a greater impact on your life than the ones of other people.

Harsh statement, but true nevertheless.

Some might consider this line of thinking inappropriate, or selfish, but look at it from this perspective: if everyone is concentrated on their own goals, the world will be an much happier place overall, as we’ll be all surrounded by successful peers. If you concentrate on making yourself happy and achieved (through putting your needs first) you will have a much greater impact on everyone around you as you’ll be a great source of positive energy and motivation for them.

By saying “no” to people, you are giving yourself more time and energy to concentrate on what makes you happy.

Creates better habits (for others)

How many times have you opened your inbox just to find two emails from the same person, one asking you to help them out, and a second one, a few hours later, saying “no worries, I figured it out”?

Often times people ask for help before even attempting to resolve a situation on their own. By making yourself unavailable you are helping the people around you develop the habit of self-reliance. The more you say “no”, the more you’ll realize that a lot of situations that previously “required” your assistance get solved on their own.

Concentrate on what you are good at

One of the biggest keys to productivity and success is doing things that you are good at, or enjoy to a great extent. If you accept tasks from other people just because you don’t want to say “no” to them (or don’t know how), you are not going to do such a good job. If you are not enjoying the activity, you won’t be fully present and it shows in the end result. It’s natural, you cannot hide it or fake it.

In the end of the day, you might even do a good job, but not a great one. You did not have fun (a lose for you) and you didn’t do such an amazing job as someone who would’ve enjoyed the task would (a lose for the other side). What started as a win-win, ended up being a lose-lose.

Avoid bad feelings

If you say “yes” too often you might end up feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and inadequate. You won’t have enough time or energy to take care of your own needs which might even make you resentful towards the people you said “yes” to. Saying “no” might be uncomfortable, but it is the lesser evil in the long run.

Why you feel bad about saying “no”

The simple act of refusing something to someone can be a very uncomfortable feeling. So uncomfortable even that you might resort to saying “yes” just to avoid it. Understanding where this discomfort comes from and the reasons behind it will make it easier to overcome it.

These are the most common reasons of why we all feel so guilty about saying that simple word:

  • You don’t want to be rude – in some cultures it is considered inappropriate and even rude to say “no”, especially to people who have seniority over you (elderly or just higher up in the chain of command)
  • You are a nice person – you actually want to help out and it makes you feel guilty that you are refusing to do so
  • You don’t want to ruin the relationship – often times people have the overly-exaggerated fear that saying “no” to someone will put an end to (or at least a kink in) the relationship as a whole
  • You fear missing out – the “what if” mentality. What if you say “no” and later on it turns out that you missed out on something amazing?
  • You feel guilty afterwords – the “disease to please” takes over. You say “no” at first just to start feeling guilty and second-guessing your decision 10 minutes later. If you know this a typical way of thinking for you, you might guilt yourself into saying “yes” in the first place, just to avoid the doubt that comes later.

If you nodded your head reading any of the above, it only means one thing: congratulations, you are human. We all experience some (or all) of the above on a regular basis, so rest assured, you are not alone.

Whatever your reason for avoiding the word “no” is, try to figure it out. It might be a combination of the above, it might be something that is particular only to you. As long as you figure out what it is, you’ll have the power to overcome it. Chances are, you’ll realize that it is not as bad as you think and that people often attach a bigger meaning to things they shouldn’t.

How to say “no”

Honesty is the best policy.

Always imagine yourself as the other person who is asking the question. Would you rather get a polite, direct, time-saving “no” on the spot, or a time-wasting “maybe” that you know will turn in a “no” later on? Or even worse, a “yes” that you know was said out of guilt or discomfort or niceness?

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Don’t beat around the bush to avoid giving a straight answer or to let people off “easy”.

“Maybe later”. What you think you are saying is “I want to say no to you, but not offend you at the same time so I am making you think it is possible at a later time”. What the other person hears is “My answer is “no” but I don’t want to feel guilty and that’s why I am telling you it is possible later on when I know it isn’t”.

Up to 75% of communication is non-verbal. People can read body language and microexpressions in 1/12th of a second and we do it completely automatically and unconsciously. In other words, if your answer is “no”, your body language will express it even through you are saying “maybe / later / yes / not right now / I am not sure”  or giving some other deflecting answer. You might not pick up on what your body is saying it, but the other person will.

Don’t give overly-complicated explanations. You risk appearing as if you are excusing yourself, or even worse, as if you are trying to come up with a fake reason on the spot. The more reasons you give, the more you open yourself to counter-arguments. People will naturally try to  overcome your objections so don’t give them ammunition or a simple request can turn into an entire dispute.

Here is the formula for the optimal “no”:

  • Be honest
  • Be direct
  • Don’t over-explain
  • Don’t just say “no” and brush people off
  • Give a reason why
  • Make a firm statement that does not invite counter arguments

Some examples:

“I can’t commit to this as I have other priorities at the moment.” – “I can’t commit (a firm “no”), as I have other priorities at the moment (a reason why which is specific enough, but also vague enough not to invite counter arguments)

“Now’s not a good time as I’m in the middle of something.

“I believe it’s not a good fit for me right now”

Over to you now

Saying “no” is a skill and a habit like any other. The more you practice it, the better you’ll get at it.

It is quite uncomfortable at first, but if you are honest in your answers people will respect you for it and your honesty will create more meaningful relationships.

Don’t overextend yourself out of niceness or guilt. Practice saying “no” when you have to, take care of your goals first. You’ll be a much happier, successful and energetic person. You’ll be able to help everyone around you in more meaningful ways than if you say “yes” to tasks that push your priorities to the side.

What opportunity or person have you said “yes” to when you wanted to say “no”? Share your experience in the comment section below: