10 Relationship-Saving Tips for Saying "No."

Saying "no" (and doing it right) can disproportionately change your life.

Posted Aug 26, 2018

Saying no isn't always easy.  It can be particularly hard for women because we may fear provoking the disap­proval of others or rocking the boat in an important relationship.

In the short run, saying no may, indeed, anger others and disrupt the harmony in the relationship. In the long run, however, we can say no in a way that will strengthen both ourselves and our important bonds. What counts is how we put our foot down. Here are some suggestions:

1. If you are feeling even slightly un­certain about an issue, don't give an im­mediate yes or no. No matter how much pressure you feel, you can always say, "I need a little time to think about it. I'll get back to you on Monday."

2. Think carefully about whether you are truly comfortable saying no. What is right for your co-worker or best friend may not be right for you. Perhaps you are not ready to say no in a particular situa­tion, and that's OK.

3. When you do say no make sure that all your explanations are about you ("I am not able to take on anything else at this time") and not about the other person ("You're really putting a lot of pressure on me"). Avoid criticism and advice-giving. 

4. Don't try to change the other per­son's reaction to your no. If your sister is furious that you won't drive her to the air­port, don't tell her that she's wrong to feel that way. Instead, try "I understand that you're angry about it, but I feel it's too much for me to take on."

5. Avoid becoming defensive, or pro­viding lengthy rationalizations for your decision. Often it's enough to say "I can't take that on at this time" or "Well, it may sound silly or selfish to you, but I'm just not comfortable doing that."  Don't partici­pate in arguments that go nowhere.

6. Try to stay calm and low-keyed even if the other person reacts strongly. Intensity escalates anxiety and increases the probability of a negative outcome.

7. Steer clear of blaming others for your choices and behaviors ("My father is so impossible that I can't say no because he'll just sulk and withdraw"). Other people may indeed make it hard for you, but it is your job to separate yourself from their expectations so you can make thoughtful choices.

8. Start small. If you try to change from an accommodating person to an as­sertive one overnight, you will stir up a great deal of anxiety and end up not changing at all.

9. If you say no in an important rela­tionship, try to hang in and stay in con­tact, even if the other person reacts nega­tively to your greater assertiveness. Avoid hit-and-run confrontations.

10. Be compassionate and patient with yourself. Remember that changing an old pattern  is possible but not easy. It's normal to get derailed. What matters is that you get on track again.