Do you have a hard time saying no to friends, family or colleagues? Saying yes too often can leave you feeling stressed, overworked, overbooked and frustrated. You might be flattered by someone asking for your help and pleased that you were invited to that gala – but it’s still okay to say no if you just can’t fit it all in. Learning to say no is a lesson we all need at some point.

Self-care is not just about what you do for yourself – it’s also about all the things you don’t do.

Saying no to others is a way of saying yes to yourself. It frees your time and energy to focus on your own goals instead of being co-opted constantly by others’ agendas.

Advocating for your needs by saying no might feel strange at first, especially if you’re saying it to a loved one or someone you genuinely want to help. But there are many ways to say it without being rude or unhelpful. Try one of the five methods below:

1. Be firm

Remember that assertiveness is not rude. Speak in a clear, moderate tone and maintain eye contact. Know that you can say no without feeling guilty because you are entitled to your own feelings and needs. You don’t owe anyone an explanation, but if you choose to give one, keep it short and non-apologetic.

For example:

“No.” “No, thank you.” “I will not be joining you because I have a prior commitment.” “No, I do not offer free services, even for family or friends.”

2. Say thanks

We really did learn everything we needed to know in kindergarten. Saying thank you can soften the blow of rejection when you decline a person’s invitations or requests for assistance.

“Thank you for thinking of me during such a special time; unfortunately, I won’t be able to come to the baby shower.”

“I won’t be able to collaborate on this particular initiative – thanks for keeping me on your radar!”

Photo: Giphy

3. Propose an alternative

This is useful when you do want to help the person, but you’re too busy or unwilling to do what they’re asking. You can propose something less time-consuming or less expensive.

“I won’t be able to help with you manuscript revisions. However, I’m happy to lend you my writing guides and my notes from a helpful editing workshop I attended.”

4. Explain

It might help the other person understand your decision if you provide an explanation for why you’re saying no. Use this one sparingly. You can spend your time and money as you wish and everyone you meet does not have the right to demand a justification for your decisions. However, you might choose to explain in certain circumstances, such as to show care and respect to a loved one.

“Babe, I’m sorry that I can’t attend your next spoken word performance because I have a work conference that I can’t miss. I’ve cleared my schedule for the next three, though, and I’ll be in the front row.”

5. Say “yes-no-yes” instead

The “yes-no-yes” approach combines our two previous methods. First, tell them you’ve said yes to something else, give the person a firm no, and then offer an alternative (the final yes).

“I reserve my Saturday mornings for personal time so I won’t be joining the softball league. You’re welcome to join me for Sunday brunch if you’re free!”

Photo: Black Girl Health
Photo: Black Girl Health

No matter how you choose to say no, there are a few tempting behaviors you should avoid:

1. Don’t be fake

Save options 2-5 for when you really mean it. A simple no is fine in most situations, so don’t feel obligated to offer a reason or helpful alternative unless you genuinely want to do so.

2. Don’t apologize

Saying no isn’t wrong, so there’s no need to apologize.

3. Don’t lie

It’s bad for you, and it’ll make you feel guilty.

4. Don’t be vague

Being polite doesn’t require you to give vague answers or avoid difficult topics. Be clear and make sure the other person comprehends your no.

5. Don’t give in

Some people don’t take no for an answer and are great at pestering and guilt-tripping others into submission. Don’t give in! If you know that you truly can’t or don’t want to commit, then no is your final answer.

Do you have any tips to add about saying no? Share them in the comments below!

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