The Friendship Doctor

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7 Tips for saying NO

Some requests are too frequent, over-the-top and inappropriate.

Saying NO can unravel a friendship but sometimes there's no way around it

My last blog post, Saying NO to a Friend Isn't Easy, was in response to an email from a reader, who like many of us, has a hard time saying NO to a friend. Of course, when someone's a true friend, as opposed to a frenemy, you want to help the person out, however and whenever you can. But some requests are too frequent, over-the-top and inappropriate. So I wanted to follow up on that reader's post and offer further thoughts to help someone say NO when they really need to:

1- Don't wait until you're fed up

Whether it's spouse, lover or friend, when you squelch your feelings, you're eventually going to explode. You can ignore little things but if your friend has really upset you or is grates on you by doing the same things repeatedly, don't let ill feelings fester too long. Initiate a discussion about the problem when you're calm and before you've built up resentment.

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2- Don't feel guilty. You can't say yes to everything

Even the best of friends don't always agree or see things eye to eye. Your friend may think it's perfectly reasonable to ask a favor of you but you may feel otherwise. True friends have to be sensitive to each other's feelings and be willing to accept NO for an answer when it's reasonable. Sure, we all want to help out our friends and support them but if the personal cost of saying yes is too great, either morally or logistically, its okay to say NO.

3- If your friend can't accept NO for an answer, recognize it as her problem not yours.

Some people are extremely self-centered and demanding, to the point of taking their friends (and others) for granted. Your friend may be overwhelmed by problems or just totally wrapped up in herself. This person may have a hard time accepting NO under any circumstances, particularly if she is accustomed to hearing you say yes. In this case, you need to be firm and not back down.

4- Carefully consider why you've decided to say NO

Saying NO always has ramifications for a relationship so mull over why you've decided to say NO and whether it's appropriate. It's easy to fall into the trap of saying NO to a reasonable request if someone has made too many unreasonable ones in the past. Examine each situation on a case-by-case basis.

5- Try to say NO as graciously as you can

Saying NO doesn't have to come off harsh and can actually be couched in some tender terms to help soften the blow. You might say, "I wish I could but" or "I really can't because..." Providing a reasonable explanation of why you're saying NO always helps the other person understand your decision.

6- When you're both relaxed, talk about limits and boundaries in friendships

Even the best of friendships require minor tune-ups to remain vital. Good friends need to be able to communicate regularly to make sure the relationship works for both people. If you feel your boundaries are being violated, it's better to talk about it before it becomes explosive.

7- If you are unable to say NO, even when you want to, find out what's holding you back

Some people are unable to say NO because their need to be liked is so great and their self-confidence is so lacking. If you have this problem and it's interfering with your relationships-personal or professional-you may want to speak to a counselor, coach, or mental health professional who can help you better understand the problem and address it.

What are some of the hardest times you've had turning a friend down and simply saying NO?


Some other thoughts on The Friendship Blog about saying NO:

Saying NO to friends

Saying No to a friends isn't easy

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Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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