This site uses cookies, your continued use implies you agree with our cookie policy.

6. Saying “no”

Many of the world’s woes are caused by people saying yes when they should have said no! Worry, exhaustion, overwork, letting people down, anger, a lack of pride, spoilt brats…

Passive people find it hard to say no. Why is this? Here are some of the reasons:

  • “I’ll lose my friends if I don’t do things for them.”
  • “People will be angry with me if I refuse.”
  • “I want to be a good person and help others.”
  • “I shouldn’t be so selfish.”
  • “If I say no, my children will think I don’t love them.”
  • “I won’t ever find a partner if I appear to be selfish.”

Aggressive people say no more often, but they can’t do it without getting angry. This is what they think:

  • “You’re just trying to take advantage of me"
  • “I’m not going to do your dirty work for you!"
  • “You’re trying to trick me somehow and I’ll regret saying yes.”
  • “People will disrespect me if I let others tell me what to do.”
  • “People will think I’m a pushover.”

Manipulative people may say yes, but they’ll worry about it and try to find a way out. Here’s what they think:

  • “Maybe they’ll forget about it if I just don’t do anything?”
  • “I’ll let them know how much this commitment is ruining my life and maybe they’ll say I don’t have to do it?”
  • “If I do this really badly, they’ll never ask me again and it’ll serve them right for asking in the first place!”
  • “I’ll tell everyone else how unfair I’ve been treated.”

Assertive people think before saying no or yes:

  • “I can only help you for an hour.”
  • “Not this time - let me know next time though. I might be able to then.”
  • “Before I decide, what exactly do you want me to do? How long will it take?”
  • “Please don’t ask me again. If I change my mind I’ll let you know.”

By saying “yes” all the time, you are teaching people that you will never refuse to do anything, which makes it even harder to say no to them. They will then take more and more. Eventually even the most passive people reach the end of their tether and may become aggressive.

By aggressively refusing every request, people will stop asking you to do things, but you are likely to miss out on being asked to do things you want to do as well!

Being able to refuse to do things comfortably is a big step along the road to becoming more assertive, and it will also help with your self esteem ("I matter enough to choose what I want to do.") and self confidence ("I said no and I didn’t lose all my friends. I can do it again!").

Saying no

You are allowed to say no!

Get yourself used to saying no by practising doing it. You could try standing in front of a mirror and asking yourself for things and saying “no”. Here are some of the phrases you could use. Practice saying it in a decisive way. Once you get good at it, read about assertive body language later in this course and add that to your defences!

  • “No thank you - I’m not interested.”
  • “That’s not convenient for me.”
  • “I’m unable to help this time.”
  • “No, it’s not OK”

Be particularly wary of “really”. When you say “I can’t really do that.”, you’re inviting people to try to persuade you to change your mind! Remember, your self esteem means you don’t have to explain your decisions, but you might find it useful to offer a compromise:

  • “We can’t afford everything you want. How about we buy it for your next birthday?”
  • “I need to rest tonight. Shall we set a date to meet later this week instead?”
  • “I can’t help with your homework. Let’s see if your teacher or another parent can help you.”
  • “I’m not ready for you to move into my home now. Let’s wait two months and have a proper talk about it then.”
  • “I’m not going to donate to your charity right now, but give me a leaflet and I’ll read it later.”

When do I say no?

Re-train your self and other people: Everyone (yourself included) expects you to react like you always do. Teach them that from now on you like to make your own choices.

Start small. Negotiate a little compromise for yourself when people ask you for things. Eg If someone wants to meet at a particular time, negotiate 15 minutes of “me time” beforehand and make sure it happens. Give yourself extra time to do a task, rather than overworking to get it done really quickly. People will be impressed if you beat the deadline. But make sure you do meet the deadline, otherwise it’s manipulative behaviour!

On the next page we’ll look more at saying no and negotiating.

Next: 7. Saying “no” in your lifeBack: 5. Self confidence and self esteem

< Back to Everyday Assertiveness