I hate saying “no” to people. In fact, I don’t know anyone who enjoys it.
It can be especially challenging to say no to your boss and colleagues at work. You care what these people think and don’t want to experience any negative consequences that might come from saying no to them.
But not being able to say no makes it easy for others to take advantage of you. You take on too many things, neglect your own needs, and do things you later resent or regret. Soon you’re overwhelmed. Your health may even deteriorate and your relationships could suffer when you don’t make good choices and learn how to say no in a healthy way.
What you need is a little more control over your life, your time, and your career. There are times you simply have to say “no.” And being able to say “no” with more confidence will help.
7 Strategies to Set Better Boundaries
- Be aware of your people-pleasing tendencies.
People-pleasers are often saddled with an unrealistic burden of responsibility. They think that caring or being “nice” means having to meet everyone else’s needs. So they’re constantly doing favors, running errands, and solving problems for others.
If you try to help everyone, it’s going to cost you a lot of time, money, and energy. And you’ll end up resenting that you’re the one who always has to help out. Understand that it’s not realistic to please everyone, and that your own needs matter too.
- Realize that you have the right to say no.
Saying no with confidence is an important part of being assertive. You can be assertive without being aggressive. It’s not selfish and it doesn’t mean you’re rejecting the other person. You have the right to look after your own needs too. Many of us were taught that saying yes to everyone else’s request meant that you were an agreeable, helpful, and generous person. Saying no seemed to imply the opposite.
It’s time to let go of these generalizations. Instead, embrace that you have not only the right, but the responsibility, to view any request as an opportunity to say no. Your physical, mental, and emotional resources are precious commodities and you need to use them wisely. You must believe it’s appropriate to say no – that it is the right, good, and fair thing to say – on occasion. If you can’t buy into this belief, you won’t assert yourself when you need to.
- Consider your priorities.
Your priorities should guide when you say “no.” First, you might say no when the person doing the asking isn’t that important to you. Second, you should say no when an important personal principle is at stake. If you don’t agree with what you’re being asked to do, say no. Third, say no when the issue is relatively minor. If a team member asks you to work late on a not-so-important project when you already have other plans, say no.
Get clear about who you are and what you really enjoy doing with your life. If you love time alone, why are you saying yes to all those social invitations? If you hate public speaking, tell your team members that you’ll find the facts they need if they do the presentation. Getting clear about how you work best is an important step in saying no.
People think focus means saying “yes” to the thing you’ve got to focus on.
But that’s not what it means at all.
It means saying “no” to a hundred other good things.
You have to pick carefully.
I’m actually as proud of the things I haven’t done as the things I have done.
— Steve Jobs
As Steve Jobs points out, saying no doesn’t have to be negative. Saying no to something doesn’t make it bad or wrong – it could be good, it’s just not good for you right now.
- Don’t leave a false impression.
When you don’t say no confidently, you can often leave a false impression. For example, if you try to politely decline an invitation by saying “Sorry but I’m busy that day,” you leave the impression that you would be open to the invitation another time (and then you’ll feel pressure to respond again). Just be honest and say, “No thanks. I’d rather not.”
Some people try to avoid confrontation by saying, “Yes, I’ll do it,” but never really plan to do it. It’s like the boss who says, “I’ll get back to you,” but never does. You’re saying what the other person wants to hear and avoiding the discomfort of saying “no,” but you’re also destroying trust in the relationship. If you skip the word “no” and say anything else, the other person hears “maybe.” You’ve got to say “no” right up front.
- Take time to respond.
Unless it is an emergency, you never need to respond to another person’s request on the spot. Buy yourself some time by saying, “I will need to check on a few things first and then I’ll get back to you.” Avoid ambiguous phrases like, “It sounds good…but I’m just not sure…” This may lead them to believe that you are leaning more to saying yes than no.
Use the time to review your priorities and obligations, which should include your own personal needs. Be clear and honest with yourself about what you truly want. It’s important to get back to the other person when you say you will. When you do get back to them, be better prepared to give a clear, concise, and confident response.
- Be clear and concise.
No is a small but powerful word – it can even be a complete sentence. When you decide to say no to something, you must be vigilant not to diminish it or bury it in apologies, long explanations, and justifications.
When you say no, keep it simple and decisive. Express your gratitude for their request and then let them know that you have decided to decline. You don’t have to justify your reasons for saying no. For example, you could simply say “Sorry, I can’t do that” or “That doesn’t work for me right now.” There is no need for a lengthy explanation. Practice saying that with conviction – where your voice and body language matter.
- Practice makes perfect
Have patience with yourself as you are learning to say no with confidence. Saying no may push you out of your comfort zone, but will likely increase your self-confidence with all of your other life decisions. While the process will require courage and conviction, learning to say no can be one of the biggest favors you can do for yourself. It also benefits others in your life because it helps to create more time, space, and energy for what is really important.
For most of us, saying no doesn’t come naturally. You feel lousy disappointing a colleague, guilty about turning down your boss, and anxious denying a friend’s request. You want to be viewed as a ‘go-to person’ — a team player. The problem is, agreeing to work on too many assignments and pitching in on too many projects leaves you stretched and stressed. Being able to say no is vital to both your success and the success of your organization — but that doesn’t make it any easier to do.
Because so many people have silently struggled with this for years, I wanted to provide this FREE resource: 20 Ways to Say No to More Work. In the free pdf download, I share strategies for saying “no” in a way that’s respectful, productive, and free of guilt.