top of page
  • Writer's pictureReflective Resources

N is for no

“No is a complete sentence. It does not require an explanation to follow. You can truly answer someone’s request with a simple no.” Sharon E. Rainey

I find this quote very difficult as I think it sounds very blunt and can be interpreted as rude . Sometimes by offering others an explanation then it ‘softens the blow’ by helping them to understand why, though I do understand and fully appreciate, that sometimes by giving such an explanation it is giving the other person ‘ammunition’ to destroy your refusal and try and manipulate you into changing your mind. I suppose when anyone says no to me I find it easier knowing why so I can work out whether I could ask them again in a similar scenario at another time or if not to understand where they are coming from better

Why is saying no important?

On initial reflection, ‘no’ often comes across as a negative word but in fact when digging a little deeper it is a word that allows us to set boundaries, make conscious choices about our time, create good habits etc etc

Saying ‘no’ is often difficult because people don’t like to feel that they are letting others down but having the confidence to say no at the appropriate time is essential for our well-being. If we say yes and then regret it we then either have to retract our offer or do it grudgingly knowing that this is not what we want to be doing.

Saying no allows us to choose where we invest our time and energy; allowing us to focus on giving it to the people and things that deserve it. When we can learn to say no and stick to it then we release our energy and we will start to thrive.

“It is only by saying no that you can concentrate on things that are really important” Steve jobs

We all have limited energy, resources and time and therefore we have a responsibility to ourselves to use them wisely. It is important to create a balance in our lives; if we’re always expending our mental, emotional or physical resources without reinvesting into ourselves then we are going to finish up exhausted and burnt out.

“Give yourself the permission to say no to anything that makes you unhappy or drains your energy.” Anonymous

It is also a useful to remember that when we say ‘no’ to something it allow us to say yes to something else.

Why is saying no difficult?

“The oldest, shortest words – ‘yes’ and ‘no’ – are those which require the most thought.” Pythagoras

Children don’t have a problem saying no but as we grow up it is something that can often become difficult for us; we learn that saying no can be uncomfortable and we seek to avoid the discomfort. We learn to be ‘people pleasers’. As we grow up too, we observe the various role models around us doing things grudgingly or struggling because of the amount of things they have taken on instead of saying no and setting healthy barriers/boundaries . We also might have grown up (overtly or covertly) with the impression that our needs are not as important as someone else's.

Our discomfort or inability to say no seems to stem from fear. Fear of letting others down, fear of being disliked or labelled as unhelpful, selfish etc, fear of people thinking less of us, fear of others’ anger or rejection etc. The good news is that if we have learnt to become uncomfortable with saying no then it seems logical that it is possible to unlearn this way of thinking and unhelpful behaviour, in so doing releasing our energy, increasing our well being and giving ourselves more freedom and choice

“Let today mark a new beginning for you. Give yourself permission to say NO without feeling guilty, mean, or selfish. Anybody who gets upset or expects you to say yes all of the time clearly doesn’t have your best interest at heart. Always remember: You have a right to say no without having to explain yourself. Be at peace with your decisions.” Stephanie Lahart

So how can we say no kindly?

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically – to say no to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger yes burning inside.” Stephen Covey

Saying no is a choice and our right. We will find it increasingly easier to say no when we build up our ‘no muscles’. It’s important to remember that it is ok to say no especially if we say it in a clear and kind way. I personally also think that most people will learn to respect your decision and the boundaries that you place when you can give them a straightforward answer or explanation and those that don’t accept your no often don’t really have your best interests at heart and are thinking more of themselves and how your decision not to do something will impinge on them.

Being clear about our needs and boundaries is our responsibility. No one can, or should be expected to, second-guess what’s going on in our heads. It is important to communicate clearly because if we consistently send mixed messages, or say ‘yes’ then moan about it behind someone’s back or are quietly seething and being resentful yet presenting a pleasant face then at some point it will all come to a head and things will become ugly, relationships will suffer, connections will be lost etc when it need not have done if we had communicated clearly in the first place.

We can build up our ‘no muscles’ by:

Reminding ourselves of our own self- worth.

Reminding ourselves that we have a right to rest

Reminding ourselves that we are not here on this earth to support other people’s lifestyles

Reminding ourselves that it is ok to want different things for ourselves

Reminding ourselves of our boundaries , our needs and our values

Reminding ourselves that others do not need to understand our decisions

If you don’t want to sound blunt then here are some phrases that might be useful:

  • “I’m sorry but I won’t be able to help you this time/on this occasion”.

  • “Unfortunately now isn’t a good time, so I won’t be able to help”

  • “I feel over-stretched and am not able to take anything else on at present”

  • “I’m sorry but I have another commitment”

  • (This can simply be having some ‘me’ time)

  • “I’m not able to take anything else on right now”.

  • “It’s not feasible for me to take anything else on at present.”

  • “That sounds like a great opportunity but I’ll have to pass this time”.

  • "It sounds great but I feel like I really need some time to myself this weekend"

  • “Thanks for thinking of me but I will have to pass this time/it doesn’t sound like my sort of thing”

  • "Thanks for the invite, however, I'm not available that evening"

  • “I have a busy week/fortnight/month ahead so you’ll have to count me out at the moment.”

  • “I need to focus on some other priorities at present so unfortunately that won’t be possible”

  • "I'd really like to help you out, but I have some pressing things that I need to attend to for myself/first

  • “That sounds great fun but I can’t join you this time”.

  • “I’d love to but I’m afraid I don’t have the time”.

  • “Sorry but I have a difficult schedule at present”.

  • “Thanks for the offer, but I can’t.”

  • “Thanks, I can’t this time but would love to do this at another time time.

  • “I’m know that I am not the right person to ask in this situation. Sorry but you will need to think of someone else”

  • "I can see that you are upset and I would love to support you, however I don't have the space/capacity/energy right now"

  • “Apologies, but I can’t make it/do it”

  • “Thank you for thinking of me , but unfortunately I'm at capacity right now.”

  • “I would have been happy to help but given my other work commitments, I won't be able to ..

  • “I need to take some time to rest so I’m just letting you know that I won’t be responding to texts/answering emails outside working hours”.

What others can you think of?

By saying no in the short term it can open us up to more opportunities in the long term.

“No is a protective shield that compliments the sword of yes” Kenny Nguyen

Finally this made me smile; How to say no to everything ;-)

"I must decline for secret reasons" E.B. White (September 28, 1956)

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page