How to Say “NO” to Life’s Relentless Requests

Whether it’s an invite you’re just not up for, a project you don’t have the bandwidth for, or a loan you know you shouldn’t lend, thinking you are a bad person for saying “No” is a symptom of the disease to please. Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious, and you get to decide how and when you will use it.  You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept.

It’s human nature – we want to be agreeable, we want to be liked, and we want to be kind. Saying yes when you need to say no will end up causing you burnout. You do yourself and the person making the request a disservice by saying yes all of the time. In a world where everything is finite, love yourself enough to prioritise your needs first.

Stop saying yes when you want to say no.

“We must say “no” to what, in our heart, we don’t want. We must say “no” to doing things out of obligation, thereby cheating those important to us out of the purest expression of our love. We must say “No” to treating ourselves, our health, our needs as not as important as someone else’s. We must say No.”

― Suzette R. Hinton

Many of us feel compelled to agree to every request and would rather juggle dozens of tasks than refuse to help someone seemingly in need, even if we are left with no time for ourselves. However, in reality, learning to say no can earn you respect from yourself as well those around you.

Why do we continue to say yes?

It could be that we believe that saying no is uncaring, even selfish, and we may have a fear of letting other people down. On top of this may be a fear of being disliked, criticised, or risking a friendship. Interestingly, the ability to say no is closely linked to self-confidence. People with low self-confidence and self-worth often feel nervous about antagonising others, and tend to rate others people’s needs more highly than their own. They may have an underlying belief that “I’m only loveable if I’m compliant and helpful.”

If you recognise yourself as a “people-pleaser,” your self-worth may have come to depend on the things you do for other people. A vicious circle may develop. The people around you begin to expect you to be there for them all the time and to always comply with their wishes.

“Until you learn how to confidently say NO to so many things, you shall always say YES to so many things. The real summary of a regretful life is a life that failed to balance YES and NO. Yes! A life that failed to recognise when to courageously say NO and when to confidently say YES!”

― Ernest Agyemang Yeboah

Some people are paralysed with the very idea of having to​​ answer a simple “no”. The colleague who arrives at your desk with a request may cause increasing levels of pressure and anguish. Sometimes irrational and often unconscious, the excuses for not saying “no” can ruin our lives and lead to negative self-worth.

It's that Four Letter F-word

Why do we hesitate to make a refusal? The short answer is: FEAR. The reasons for the fear, resulting in the difficulty in saying “No” are multiple and depend on our childhood experiences, education, and our environment. Among these fears, more notably are:

Fear of Authority

This fear is linked to the fear of having to justify or apologise, like a small child. This pattern is more prevalent if you had dominant parents/care givers who enforced strict rules.

Fear of Disappointing

A small child with a big heart can associate a disappointed/disapproving parent with not being loved. The belief that you have to please to be accepted, or that it is rude to refuse is developed early and reinforced throughout childhood.

Fear of Conflict

For many people, confrontation is equated with anger, and potentially violence. These types of associations will cause you to prefer to flee rather than attempt a constructive discussion.

Fear of Other’s Pain

Altruism, taken to the extreme, can lead to self-sacrifice where you decide to place the needs of others before your own. When you ignore your own pain this self-sacrifice is to your own detriment. 

Fear of Disharmony

An exaggerated need for peace can cause you to not to make waves in a bid for fleeting tranquility. Unfortunately this behaviour tends to backfire because your submission makes you feel manipulated, resulting in the opposite of inner peace.

Fear of Judgement 

A lack of self-worth will often appear as a fear of ridicule, judgment by others, and generally not being up to par.

Why it's Essential to Say "No".

Being unable to say no can make you exhausted, stressed and irritable. It can undermine every effort you make to improve your quality of life if you spend hours worrying over how to get out of an already-promised commitment. If your spare time is taken up with committee meetings and a myriad of other engagements, your relationships may also be suffering. Don’t wait until your energy runs out before you take a much needed step back to assess the situation.

“What’s helped with saying no to others is asking myself first if I’m saying yes out of guilt or fear. If so, then it’s a polite no.”
― Neil Strauss

7 Skills for Saying "No".

  1. Use the Word

Not, ‘Not at this time’, not ‘I don’t think so’, not ‘I’m not sure’, not ‘Maybe next time’. The word NO is a powerful thing. Use it if you are absolutely, unequivocally sure that there is no other answer. And don’t apologise for saying it. If need be, practise saying the word until it loses its power over you.

      2. Keep it Simple.

No is a complete sentence. You are under no obligation to explain yourself. It’s important to be firm and direct. By all means, use phrases such as “Thanks for coming to me but I’m afraid it’s not a convenient right now” or “I’m unavailable for that.” Be strong in your body language and DO NOT over-apologise. You’re not asking permission to say no.

      3. Buy Yourself Time

Interrupt the ‘yes’ cycle, using phrases like “I’ll get back to you,” then consider your options. Having thought it through at your leisure, you’ll be able to say no with greater confidence.

       4. Consider the Opportunity Cost

What will you lose by giving in? Time? Money? Health? The opportunity to work on something more rewarding? Nothing comes for free.

        5. Separate Refusal from Rejection

Remember you’re turning down a request, not a person. Reasonable people will understand that it is your right to say no, just as it is their right to ask the favour in the first place.

         6. Don’t Feel Guilty for Saying No to Your Children.

It is important for children to hear “No” from time to time so that they can develop a sense of self-control. It is very difficult to negotiate adult life without this important skill. Rather than cave into their protests, let them know who is in charge by setting boundaries.

          7. Be True to You.

Be clear and honest with yourself about what you truly want. Get to know yourself better and examine what you really want from life.

“When I claim more than what I can handle, I limit the opportunities for another person in my community.”

― Jeff Shinabarger

Remember that there are only so many hours in the day. This means that whatever you choose to take on limits your ability to do other things. So, even if you somehow can fit a new commitment into your schedule, if it’s not more important than what you would have to give up to do it (including time for relaxation and self-care), you really don’t have the time in your schedule.

3 Common Scenarios to Help You Opt-Out

Here’s how to do the right thing―for yourself and others―when you know that opting out is your best option. Don’t feel guilty. Just take these tips from experts on etiquette and communication, and perhaps even a cue from your favourite two-year-old on how to say “No”.

1. Saying No for the Sake of Your Wallet

Request #1: A friend in need asks you for a Trump-worthy loan.

What you can say: “I wish I could but, as a rule, I don’t lend money to friends.”

Why it works: It’s emotionally neutral because it’s clear that you are not singling out this particular person as untrustworthy.

Why you shouldn’t feel guilty: Lending any amount of money can cause problems. It is possible that you may enable your friend to live beyond their means. It can change the nature of your relationship if the person doesn’t pay you back.

How to avoid the situation in the future: Don’t lend money to friends and you won’t get a reputation as a walking ATM.

“It takes effort to say no when our heart and brains and guts and, most important, pride are yearning to say yes. Practice.”
― Cole Harmonson

Request #2: A coworker wants you to chip in $25 for a gift for a colleague you wouldn’t recognise at the water cooler.

What you can say: “Oh, I’ve never really had a conversation with Steve. I think I’ll just wish him a happy birthday in person.”

Why it works: By clarifying the nature of your relationship, and emphasising your intention to get to know the person better by expressing birthday wishes, you come across as thoughtful rather than cheap.

Why you shouldn’t feel guilty: A gift is not a gift if it’s an obligation.

How to avoid the situation in the future: If workplace gift giving is getting out of hand, take the lead in restoring sanity by circulating a card before someone can break out the gift-donation plate. Make sure others know you don’t expect anything on your birthday.

2. Saying No for the Sake of Your Time

Request #1: You are offered a promotion that you really don’t want. Even though it means more money, the new role demands more hours and more of what your boss calls ‘responsibility’ and you call ‘tedium’.

What you can say: “I’m flattered that you chose me, but for personal reasons I’m not in the position where I can take this on. Perhaps in a year from now things will be different. Can we talk again if my circumstances change?”

Why it works: If you’re caught in this enviable dilemma, your boss will understand you that have personal priorities that take precedence. It also tells your boss that you think highly enough of the position that it’s important for the candidate to give it their best shot.

Why you shouldn’t feel guilty: By saying no to more time at the office, you’re saying yes to other things you cherish, be they long walks alone at sunset or evening playtime with your children.

How to avoid the situation in the future: If a position opens up at your workplace, you could let it be known that you are not in the running. Being forthright saves your boss the trouble of pursuing a candidate who isn’t interested.

“Say no to everything, so you can say yes to the one thing.”
― Richie Norton

Request #2: You are asked to coordinate the bake sale―again―at your child’s school fete.

What you can say: “I know I’m going to disappoint you, but I’ve decided not to volunteer this year because I don’t want to end up feeling resentful. Is there a way to get some of the other parents to step up?”

Why it works: Often people feel manipulated into doing something (“The after work trivia night just won’t happen without your help!”). If you can address the problematic pattern of one person doing all the work by stating your position in a clear emotional space, you sidestep the manipulation. It also gives other people the opportunity to step up.

Why you shouldn’t feel guilty: You’ve done your fair share, and now others can do the job.

How to avoid the situation in the future: When you are involved with this kind of thing, invite other people to join you so that you are not left with all the responsibility. Encourage school leaders to present the opportunity to all the parents. If people know an important program may fail, or the school needs to raise a certain amount of money, they’ll usually remedy the situation.

3. Saying No for the Sake of Your Sanity

Request #1: A friend asks to borrow your car (because hers is in the shop to repair the damage which happened while she was driving, talking on her cell phone, and putting lipstick on).

What you can say: “I don’t lend anything worth more than $1,000.” Try to avoid the old “I don’t have insurance for a non-family member” excuse―most insurance policies cover the car, not specific drivers. (If she did get into an accident, it could make your premium go up, though.) If you have time, offer her a ride instead.

Why it works: It puts the responsibility on you, while not indicating that you don’t trust your friend.

Why you shouldn’t feel guilty: Your car is probably one of most valuable things you own. This means you’re protecting a financial asset. Plus, if your friend did get into an accident, your relationship may also be totalled.

How to avoid the situation in the future: Let your friends know that while you’re typically a generous lender (“Of course you can borrow my snorkelling gear!”), your car is off-limits.


“Let today mark a new beginning for you. Give yourself permission to say NO without feeling guilty, mean, or selfish. Anybody who gets upset and/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

Request #2: Your future sister-in-law wants to throw you a bridal shower, but you really don’t want the fuss.

What you can say: “I really don’t want a party, but thank you so much for offering. Why don’t we splurge on a visit to a day spa instead?”

Why it works: Not everyone wants to be the centre of attention with all the traditional garb. This way you get to do what you want to do. Unless she has her own agenda, she will understand. Offering an alternative activity that still allows you to bond signals that you do want to get to know her better.

Why you shouldn’t feel guilty: It’s your occasion to celebrate in any way you see fit.

How to avoid the situation in the future: Announce your preferences so people know up front what it is that you want to do.

“…there are often many things we feel we should do that, in fact, we don’t really have to do. Getting to the point where we can tell the difference is a major milestone in the simplification process.”
― Elaine St. James,

Have patience with yourself as you learn how to use this powerful tool of communication. Remember that learning to say “No” increases our self-confidence and encourages us to trust ourselves more deeply with all of our life decisions. It seems so simple, when in actual fact, saying “No” is rigorous, internal work that asks a lot of us. While this process requires courage, calm and conviction, learning to say “No” is one of the most amazing things you can do for yourself. It also benefits everyone else in your life because it helps to create more space, time and energy for what is really, truly important.

With compassion and attentiveness, we can learn to listen to that gentle, honest and trusted voice inside that continuously reminds us of what truly matters. We must make room to be responsive to these life-preserving messages of the heart. We must decide what our highest priorities are and have the courage to pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically say ‘No’ to other things. The best way to do that is by having a bigger ‘Yes’ burning inside.

“When you say no to the wrong people, it opens up the space for the right people to come in.”
― Joe Calloway


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