5 Ways to Say No

It is far easier to agree with someone than say no. Maybe it’s because we fear conflict, are scared of disappointing the other person or don’t feel we have the right to disagree. Often, a person will ask us what they believe to be a perfectly reasonable request. It may demand our time, or finances, our emotions and our energy- but we feel a certain obligation to say yes to them.

What do you feel uncomfortable agreeing to? Perhaps a friend has asked you to babysit and you are already drained of time and energy with your own children? You might belong to a community group that has labelled you the “go to” person anytime a need arises, and it’s infringing on your family time and mental health. Perhaps your partner or spouse expects you to act a certain way, deliver on specific tasks or duties, or wants you to agree with everything they say?

The argument, “You’ll say yes if you love me,” can often be used as an excuse to guilt us into certain activities. But when we are motivated by fear, expectation and intimidation, we end up doing more harm than good to the people around us and ourselves. We all have the right and ability to put up our boundaries, and say no to things that make us feel uncomfortable.

Here are 5 ways to say no next time you’re asked to do something that makes you uncomfortable.

1. Be honest

Sometimes people will make requests, not realising how uncomfortable we are with them. If you are able to, tell the person that as much as you would love to help, you feel unable to right now. Explain the details why- in as little or as much detail as you want. With a little understanding some people will back off and go elsewhere for support.

2. Be firm

We all have unrelenting people in our lives who won’t take no for an answer. They will keep pushing until we feel obligated to agree, and in turn they keep coming back because we are, apparently, always available. When these people come to you, be firm. Don’t give in when they push. End the conversation with the statement, “I’m sorry I can’t do this,” and remind them of this whenever they repeat the request.

3. Suggest another option

As valuable as you are, there is always someone else who can fill the need. Suggest they find this person, limit your giving to a list of ideas and suggestions for an event, or tell them to do their own research. This is especially useful in a community or family situation where there are plenty of other people who can step up and help out.

4. Have a conversation

If conflict is arising with your spouse or a close family member, the worst thing you can do is assume they already know how you feel. Ignoring a task or making subtle hints won’t always work, so be straight up with them about your feelings. Take the time to discuss each party’s needs, and then communicate why you can’t or don’t want to fulfil them. Conflict can arise with the expectations of housework, work hours and even sexual intimacy. By talking about your feelings and how you can compromise on a situation, you will be much happier and your relationship healthier.

5. Say yes to what matters

When we agree to everything, we miss doing the things that are really important to us. Decide what is really important in your life; it may be having the time and energy to prepare dinner, pick the kids up from school, have a date night with your partner or play a weekly sports match. When you are asked to do something, filter the request through these priorities. If it retracts from them in anyway- be it time, energy, finances or emotional capacity, don’t be afraid to say no. By saying yes to what really matters, we can maintain our own wellbeing and care for the people closest to us.