12 May 2020

Saying "no" is a key skill but around half of us find it difficult to say “no” without feeling awkward, guilty or like we are letting people down and therefore damaging relationships. Here are five tips on how to do it with conviction.

2:00 min

As children, we learn that saying “no” is impolite or inappropriate. But saying yes all the time can lead to unhappiness as we fill our days with things we don’t want to do. It’s the difference between doing a few things really well or being exhausted from doing hundreds of things half-heartedly and badly. Here are five simple tips and techniques to try:


1. Decide you are going to say no

Focus on the positive things you want in your life, such as running a successful project or more time for your family, hobbies or health. Clear priorities help create a positive mindset. Decide on what you will and won’t do. You need to say no to some things to be able to say yes to others, which are more important. Where possible, plan for your no ahead of time and keep in mind why you’re saying it.

2. Set boundaries

Understand peoples’ tactics. Some people may manipulate you to say yes, whether knowingly or not. They may do this with good intentions, but the end result is pressuring you or forcing you to agree with them. Strong, healthy relationships will survive you saying no. Take time to understand your role in the relationship – with a better awareness of the dynamics, you will feel less worried about the consequences of turning someone down.

3. Be assertive and polite

Be brief, but not brusque. Be clear on whether it’s a “no” or a “not now” and don’t be afraid to repeat yourself if necessary. Say it clearly – if you are speaking to someone, make eye contact and do not mumble. If you struggle with this, ask people to text or email their request so that you can get back to them. It’s reasonable to check your agenda before making a commitment.

4. Think carefully before giving your reasons

Offering an excuse may seem polite but it can also create an awkward situation. It gives people the opportunity to change their request so that your excuse is no longer valid. If you can simply thank people for their request and tell them that you can’t agree to it, you prevent them from arguing with you. We certainly don’t need to go into why lying is never a good idea.

5. Suggest other solutions

Saying no is an essential part of life but offering an alternative solution can go a long way to maintaining a positive relationship, especially for people who are important to you (whether co-workers, friends or family).

If you can, offer a different solution that is better for you. Opening dialogue shows that you care about the relationship and satisfying their request. Be sure to manage expectations – if you can do a task but not until the end of the week, then be open and tell them. This way, you will feel more in control of your time and managing your workload. If the task is urgent, they can assign it to someone else.