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The Do’s and Don’ts of Saying No

Sep 1, 2021 | Personal Growth, Relationships

  • The fear of disappointment, inadequacy, and selfishness often leads to our need to please others
  • Consider your personal needs, boundaries, & what you may be sacrificing before saying yes
  • When saying no, refrain from making excuses, apologizing, or feeling obligated to explain yourself

Saying no should be simple, right? Yet when it comes down to it, a lot of us end up putting our feelings aside for the sake of satisfying someone else. Having the desire to please not only goes against our needs, but it can also take a serious toll on our mental health.

What makes saying no so difficult?

For many of us, the fear of disappointing our family, friends, and partners causes stress and pressure to be agreeable. At work, we strive to make a good impression and worry that saying no reflects poorly on our ability to accomplish a task. Sometimes we truly want to help our boss or attend a friend’s event but have too much on our plates. No matter the situation, we associate “no” with a poor outcome and assume that taking care of ourselves is selfish.

If you’re tired of saying yes when you know the answer is no, try implementing these strategies into your own life:


1. Know your value
Prioritizing your needs and honoring what is important to you is a good kind of selfishness, it means considering your “self” as important – beginning with your time. The sooner you start implementing boundaries, the sooner you will be able to live a more meaningful life on your terms.

2. Question what saying yes will mean
Will saying yes compromise my plans? Will saying yes lead to more burnout? Will saying yes cause me to feel resentful? Ask yourself questions like these in order to see if what you’re agreeing to is really worth it. Try to think of what balance to strike, when does yes actually make sense?

3. Practice
The best way to get comfortable with saying no is to start doing it. As tempting as it is to throw a “maybe” out there, try being direct. “Unfortunately, I’ll need to pass on this” or “Thanks, but I’m trying to recharge this weekend” are reasonable and clear responses.


1. Lie
It’s enticing to try and cushion a “no” with an excuse, but that typically ends up becoming more effort than simply being up front about what you want. Remember that you can’t control someone else’s reaction to your honesty.

2. Apologize
Save the word “sorry” for times when it’s truly warranted. Looking out for your own best interest and upholding your boundaries is never a reason to feel bad. If you find that guilt is lingering, remind yourself that you can be a compassionate and helpful person, while still putting yourself first when necessary.

3. Feel the need to provide an explanation
If you think you should offer some type of justification, keep it brief. Keep in mind that “no” is a complete sentence. If you want to take it a step further, try expressing gratitude, such as “thanks for thinking of me,” or even offer an alternative plan.

Therapist Jordan Reynolds

Author: Jordan Reynolds, MSW, LLMSW

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