How to say “No” more effectively

There are certain difficulties in declining other people’s requests or offers in most cultures. In some cultures, you have no option to say no at times, even if you want to, because of the social norms or hierarchies. In the U.S., however, it is acceptable for people to express their own opinions in general as society values individual freedom.

Suppose you live in Western society but are still having difficulty saying no to others or expressing your negative feelings in front of others. In that case, the reason is most likely in your head (except for the times when violence or coercion is involved). If nobody stops you from saying no to others, but you always say yes, why is this happening?

The short answer to this question is “fear.” You may be afraid of negative consequences, such as rejection, retaliation, or complication from the fact that you don’t accept other people’s requests or offers. You probably understand that you have the right to choose but cannot stick to your gut and always end up “pleasing” others. You may be able to escape from the discomfort of saying “no” at the moment but may often end up regretting your behavior after the fact. If you are tired of this cycle, let’s think about what is going on more deeply and what other actions you can take.

  1. Take a moment:
    • You may be thinking you need to respond right away, but wait. You should have at least a day or two to decide, right? If you tend to give others answers impulsively, it is imperative to remember you need to wait for a while before making a hasty decision.
    • If you have an urge to reply or answer your friend’s text or your coworker’s email immediately, think about why you feel that is necessary. Take time to think about the answer to the question like this: What do you think will happen if you say no or speak up to this person?
  2. Tell them you are still thinking:
    • It is OK for you to indicate that you are thinking or debating to make the best decision. Most of the time, it is easier for you to say you haven’t made up your mind than you don’t want to do something.
    • Another way to decline is “I will let you know in ___ days/weeks if I decide to go, ” etc. This way, you don’t have to say no as you have already indicated that not responding means no, so you won’t keep others waiting for your answer.
  3. It’s OK not to be completely honest:
    • Sometimes you can provide “possibility” as a reason to decline. For example, you can say, “My grandma has been sick, so I want to be available for her,” etc. Even if you think that your grandma’s condition will not be so bad, it is still possible that her health worsens, and you are not necessarily lying. In some ways, it is considerate of you to provide a reason other than your feelings so that you may avoid hurting other people’s feelings.
  4. Suggest or recommend someone else:
    • You could say things like, “Oh, so and so might be a better fit for the role,” etc. Sometimes people may not have a clear understanding of your capacity or character and may need help making a better assessment. Even if you want to take responsibility, you may get overwhelmed, and things may not work out if you are not a good fit for the role.
  5. Think of the long-term consequences:
    • Yes, you can say no indirectly, using the techniques above, but sometimes you have to be honest and just say “no” because you don’t want to or don’t like what is offered or suggested. Yes, you may hurt other people’s feelings, but it will be better for them to understand your true feelings as the relationship would not work out in the long run if you keep hiding your true opinions or genuine feelings.

If you have a habit of saying “yes” to everything, it may be hard to implement the above strategies even if you logically understand their importance. Changing your habits or behaviors will take time as you developed your current ways a long time ago and are used to them. Maybe you had to be a “perfect daughter or son” to your parents or a “straight-A student” in the past, but those days are over or will be over soon. You will have to find your identity and figure out who you really are. No matter how old you are, it’s not too late to start a journey to find yourself. This journey may be long, but I promise it will be fun.