Saying No – Why It Is Important and How to Do It


How do you say no without hurting anyone's feelings? Why is saying no so tricky? Why do you say ′′Fine,” when you feel that you do not have the time, energy, or inclination to do what is asked of you? Many people are raised with the value that you must be nice and accommodate others. However, it turns out that saying no is not as difficult as it might seem. This step-by-step plan helps you turn polite refusals into a pleasant habit.

For many people, saying no to requests is more stressful than saying yes. Whether it is an invitation to a party, a work request, or a question from your partner, every time we say no, there is a potential risk of an unpleasant reaction. Saying yes will lead to fewer feelings of guilt, and the chance of conflict remains low. Therefore, people often choose the short-term benefits of saying yes. 

However, by overcommitting, you may increasingly feel irritable or depressed by denying your priorities. You say yes, but you might have to do something halfway, or accomplish it too late, perhaps due to your time and energy constraints. This can cause you to come across as unreliable since you cannot keep everyone happy and meet their standards all the time. Avoiding saying no can, therefore, lead to psychological complaints, conflicts, and disappointed relationships over the long term. The key is to say no without feeling bad for having done so.

Insights To Help Say No

1. You Cannot Please Everyone

Many people find it important that they are liked and appreciated by others. Therefore, avoiding conflict at all costs and saying yes seems easier. However, that often comes at your own expense. It is unrealistic to think that everyone will always like you. Always saying yes when you would rather say no is not sustainable to garner more appreciation. In fact, people usually admire people who have clear boundaries and stand up for themselves. Saying yes to one thing automatically means saying no to something else. Time and energy are limited. So, knowing what you are saying no to when you say yes again is essential. When learning to say “no,” remember that you cannot always please everyone. And that you do not have to.

2. You Are Not Selfish for Saying No

Do you feel guilty or selfish when you say no and set boundaries? The fact that you find it challenging to say no and think it might come off as selfish proves that you are not selfish. Realize that when saying no, it is an answer to someone's question or request and not a rejection of the person. In addition, saying no more often to people who are draining your energy saves you energy and time, and helps you to be there for the important people in your life.

3. What Fears Keeps You from Saying No?

People with difficulty saying no are often very perfectionistic, want to please others or have a great sense of responsibility. Usually, they are also sensitive, making them (more) sensitive to the feelings of others. They are afraid of hurting someone, ruining a relationship, or they fear being rejected or disliked, and therefore, prefer to avoid any confrontation. This form of conflict avoidance is usually a pattern with a deeper cause. Ask yourself what makes you afraid to say no until you reach the core. By examining your fears of saying no, you can work on that and get better at saying no. 

4. Knowing Your Values and Boundaries Helps with Saying No

Saying no is about setting boundaries and knowing what you find important in life, such as values and goals. It is difficult to guard and maintain your boundaries, values, and goals without knowing them. Examine your boundaries and which five values and goals are most important to you. Also, make two lists: one list of things, activities, or people that drain energy. The second list contains things, activities, or people that give you energy. This provides an insight into what/who is important to you and what you would prefer to say no to. The better you know your boundaries, values, and goals, the easier it is to say no if something does not align with them. 

5. You Do Not Always Have to Be Available

Today, people expect quick responses, adding extra pressure that might make it harder to say no. By being continuously available, you may also feel that you have to react immediately, leaving less time for other priorities. Therefore, set boundaries about dividing your time and energy concerning digital availability. For example, put your phone away after 8 p.m., check your emails three times a day instead of leaving your mailbox on all the time, and answer your social media once a day. Not always being available and resting is a crucial form of saying no.

How To Say No 

  1. Know Yourself

Before you start saying no, knowing what you do want is essential. Try to understand your behavior. Ask yourself what you would like to do differently and experiment with that. Try not to be too assertive by saying no to everything. Make a conscious decision about what you do or do not want. 

A good exercise in learning to say no is establishing priorities that are good for your well-being, things you need to stay calm, fit, and satisfied. For example, you only go out up to two nights a week because it could lead to tiredness and moodiness. 

Exercise: Block times in your week for things you find necessary, not only work or chores, but also family, relaxing, or sports. Blocking off time in your agenda for your priorities ensures that, at a glance, you can see whether you are available. In addition, if you are available, ask yourself – Do I want this, or am I doing this mainly because I think I should? 

  • Be Polite and Assertive

Always say no in a respectful way. You can disagree with someone but still maintain a good relationship with them.We fear that saying no will come across as rude, so we beat around the bush. Instead, you could ask whether the other person wants an explanation, for example, by asking if they want a short or long answer. Usually, people want the short version since the answer remains the same. 

Give yourself space to refuse requests and give the others space to be disappointed. However, remember you are not responsible for the other person's feelings. You are not there to meet the needs of the other person. If the other person responds as offended, your message is getting through. You can say, “I understand your disappointment.” But the other person's feelings are ultimately not your problem, but theirs. 

Reflect: What is the worst that can happen? You may wonder what your loss is once you respectfully state your boundaries, and the other person does not respect them. Some relationships do not fit your assertive version. The relationship may have worked great because you said yes to everything. 

  • Stand by Your Decision

After the rejection, try to focus on this decision's positive effects instead of guilt or regret. Positive results could be that you feel better rested, appreciate the time that has been freed for something else, and most importantly, you stand up for yourself.

19 Ways to Say No

  1. Vague but effective: “Thank you for the invite, but I cannot make it.”
  2. Not personal: “Thank you, but I'm not doing anything besides […] at the moment.”
  3. Please try again later: “I'd like to, but I'm not available until December. You can ask me again around that time.”
  4. I know someone else: “I do not have time right now. I can recommend someone else.”
  5. Keep trying: “I can't do these dates, but I want to see you. Do you have other options?”
  6. Negotiate: “I can't make it this month but would like to do it sometime. Will you call me before you go again?”
  7. Gratitude: “Thank you very much for your enthusiasm! Unfortunately, I can't help you at the moment.”
  8. Think about your partner (if your children bombard you with requests): “Shall we ask if your father/mother/ grandmother can do it?”
  9. Small favor: “I can't come, but I can help you promote it by posting it on my social media/sending an email.”
  10. Just no: “Thanks, but I have to let it pass.” (No additional information needed)
  11. I am sorry: “I wish I could do it, but I just can't do it right now.”
  12. Someone else decided: “I promised my partner/therapist/trainer I would not take on any new projects. I am working on creating more balance in my life.”
  13. My family is the reason: “Thanks for the invitation, but my kid plays soccer that day, and I aim never to miss a game.”
  14. Classy: “I appreciate you thinking of me, but I already have something else that day.”
  15. Set boundaries: “I'll tell you what I can do,” and offer what feels comfortable for you.
  16. Pause: “I will think about it and get back to you.”
  17. Be honest: “The kids are sick, the bathroom is being renovated, and I have a deadline.”
  18. Prioritize yourself: “I need to take care of myself right now.” Make clear that it is not personal but that you cannot do what they ask. 
  19. Say nothing: Not all requests require a response. It may feel rude to ignore a request, but sometimes it's best for everyone. 

Final Thoughts

If you commit to too many appointments or do too much work, you say no to your well-being, quality time with your partner or children, and no to your sleep. Things that are very important to you. The good news is that you can make saying no a more pleasant habit. Something you feel entitled to rather than something you fear. Setting boundaries is not selfish. More balanced people become more open, understanding, and generous to others.

Emerald Mental Health specializes in helping pilots and flight attendants via counseling and mental health coaching. Reach out for a free consultation through email at or visit


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