A Fool Proof Formula for Saying No

Being nice doesn't mean being a pushover.

Posted Aug 08, 2015

Could you say no to these eyes?
Source: Could you say no to these eyes?

Refusing requests--simply saying no--can be difficult for a lot of people. How often have you agreed to do something only to regret it later?  

Sometimes others' requests are reasonable, they just don't fit into your schedule at the time. Or, there are those people that always seem to ask a lot of you. In either case, there is a way to be kind without letting people walk all over you.

Decide whether or not the request is reasonable. Only you can decide this. What may be reasonable to one person may be completely out of the question for another. I have a friend who took in a foreign exchange student for an entire semester on a day's notice and it didn't seem to phase her. Another person may feel taxed by the idea of taking in a neighbor's mail while they're on vacation. We often don't know the particulars of others' lives, so it's best not to judge or assume intentions.

Respect your needs. You have to consider your own situation. For example, I experience chronic pain. Sometimes I really want to help someone out, but I know I can't do so without paying a huge price for days, or even weeks afterwards. This is particularly hard when I look healthy. But respecting my needs is a part of my self-compassion practice. Your situation is likely different, but the principle is the same. Sure, it's good to be generous and help out when you can. But saying no is sometimes the best way to respect yourself and your needs.

Follow your gut. Your inclination is an important factor. Maybe you just have a gut feeling that you want to say no. It's OK to follow your intuition.

Get the details. Maybe you need more information before you can make a decision. For example, you can ask the other person, "If I agreed, what would it entail?"

Stall if necessary.  It's perfectly reasonable and OK to stall for time and say, "I need to think about it." Once in a while, an immediate response is necessary, but this isn't usually the case. It's much better to take the time to consider carefully than to say yes when you can't deliver the goods – this will only cause embarrassment and hard feelings later on.

Pay attention to your feelings.  If you're feeling hesitant, manipulated, or trapped, this may be a sign that you want to say no. Listen to your feelings. Although an overgeneralization, people who are generally nice tend to give more importance to other people's needs than their own, which makes saying no especially hard for them.

Be direct. How do you refuse a request? As directly as possible. Give a simple no, and skip the long-winded justification. If you feel compelled to give a reason, keep it brief. Try to avoid apologizing excessively.

For example, perhaps a friend asked if you'll take care of her kids for two nights while she's out of town on a business trip, but the dates overlap with a one-week visit by your father and his wife. You'll already have a full house and all the guests you can handle. You might say, "I’d really love to, and other under circumstances I'd say yes. But my dad and his wife will be visiting then, so I'll have to say no." You made your position clear, and it said no without alienating your friend. You've also considered – and respected – your own needs.

Avoid guilt. Once you've made your decision, move on. Resist the urge to second-guess yourself. I know this is easier said than done, but everyone has a right to say no. It might help to remember that you wouldn't want someone to agree to a request when they didn't want to. You would probably rather they give you an honest answer.

Saying No Does Not Mean You're Selfish. This is a biggie for me. I used to tell myself I was being selfish when I said no to a request. Slowly I've learned that saying no can be an act of self-care.

What is the experience of saying no like for you? Do you do it easily? With dread? Do you feel guilty afterward? Or do you feel good for respecting your boundaries?

You might also like thes articles:

80+ Self-Care Ideas

7 Types of Self-Care Activities for Coping with Stress

The Social Anxiety Spiral

Barbara Markway, Ph.D..
Source: Barbara Markway, Ph.D..

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I am the co-author of Dying of Embarrassment, Painfully Shy, and Nurturing the Shy Child. Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia was found to be one of the most useful and scientifically grounded self-help books in a research study published in Professional Psychology, Research and Practice. I’ve also been featured in the award-winning PBS documentary, Afraid of People. Greg and I also co-authored Illuminating the Heart: Steps Toward a More Spiritual Marriage.