Learn how to say no without feeling guilty, selfish, or like a total bitch. Free yourself from the ‘yes reflex’, and make ‘no’ your default setting.
“How do I say no without hurting their feelings?”
I often feel a deep desire to please others – to keep people happy, to be everything to everyone, to be liked.
I don’t say this with pride. It’s exhausting.
And in the last few years, I’ve noticed how excruciating I find it to say no.
Saying no is one of the most empowering things we can do; asserting our right to decline things that don’t serve us (without feeling the need to explain ourselves) feels amazing.
My current personal rule is: if I’m about to do something only because someone else wants me to, I say no.
But if you struggle to say no (like I do), here are a few reminders that usually help me out.
No is a complete sentence
“No” is a sufficient response to an offer or invitation. Just FYI.
But for those of us who communicate indirectly, it feels hard to say it so bluntly. Indirect communication is when we rely on non-verbal cues (like sighing) to communicate how we feel, which helps to avoid conflict… but also conceals our true thoughts.
This often causes miscommunication, misunderstanding, and misinterpretation; especially when it’s paired with elaborate excuses and explanations.
Maybe this will seem familiar:
“Sure, I’d love to, BUT it’s my cat’s birthday tomorrow and I promised I’d throw a party for him and all his cat buddies”.
Saying no without explaining yourself doesn’t make you any less:
But I get it; this can be scary at first. Most of the time, however, people simply accept your response and move on.
And the more you flex your direct communication skills (by saying what you mean), the easier it gets.
Takeaway: next time you want to decline an invitation, simply say ‘no’, or ‘no thanks’. Notice if you feel the urge to explain, and resist.
There’s no need to offer a solution
Sometimes when we say no, we feel guilty – and we try to alleviate our discomfort by offering an alternative solution.
A common one is, “I can’t right now, but maybe [insert time here]”. This is only a problem if you know it’s a crock of shit.
When I quit drinking, for example, I suddenly realised that a lot of my friendships were totally superficial (and mostly based on a mutual enjoyment of getting fucked up together).
So I stopped accepting invitations to go out drinking. It took me a long time to drop the “but maybe another time…” (and it still creeps in now).
The main issues were that I:
- Felt guilty, like I was letting them down
- Didn’t want to offend them
- Worried they wouldn’t like me anymore
The fact was, some of these relationships were toxic – and instead of worrying about them, I should have been prioritising my own feelings and needs.
Takeaway: if you’ll never want (or be able) to do what’s being asked, don’t offer an alternative solution. Notice if you feel the urge to do so, and resist.
An apology isn’t necessary
Apologies are like a reflex for me. A guy bumps into me the street, and I apologise profusely for daring to take up space on the pavement. *facepalm*
We have to train ourselves out of ‘automatic apologies’, especially when it comes to saying no.
Take last month, when I backed out of signing a contract for a new house. I’d gone pretty far into the process, so I felt guilty about telling the letting agent. I started typing out an email the length of my arm, apologising for taking up their time.
And then I realised; this is their job. They get paid to do this, it isn’t personal. Why am I apologising because I changed my mind?
Women tend to apologise more than men, because we see more behaviours as being potentially offensive.
We have to remind ourselves that:
- We’re not responsible for anybody elses’s feelings
- If someone takes offence, it’s their problem
- When we apologise, we’re training people to see us as the ones to blame
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask for forgiveness when we truly need to, of course. But it doesn’t help us to use apologies as a ‘conversation smoother’.
Takeaway: remember that an apology isn’t necessary if you haven’t done anything to apologise for. Notice if you feel the urge to offer an apology, and resist.
Say no and wield your new power
Give yourself the gift of saying no.
Give yourself permission to step into your power, assert your own needs, and ask for what you want.
Let go of the ‘yes reflex’, and make ‘no’ your new default setting.