How To Say ‘No’: 10 Powerful Tips

We live in a world of demands. Friends, family, co-workers, even complete strangers can ask many things of us on a daily basis.

Sometimes it’s best just to say ‘no‘.

But it isn’t always easy. Saying ‘no’ can bring feelings of guilt, or fear that you might have damaged an important relationship.

In this post, I will offer you 10 powerful tips on how to say ‘no’.

Be polite

‘No’ is a small word with a big impact. It can feel abrupt, even rude. But refusal can be worded in many different ways. You might say “Unfortunately, I can’t help right now”, or “I’m afraid I’m not interested”.

What’s important is that you’re polite, and don’t equivocate. Don’t answer ambiguously, with phrases like, “I’m not sure”. Because you are sure! You just don’t want to offend the other person.

Give reasons

A flat-out ‘no’ might make a person think you are stubborn or inflexible. You’re not obliged to elaborate further, but giving a brief explanation can offset their disappointment. Telling someone, “I’m afraid I can’t come because I have a doctor’s appointment”. is a valid excuse and can save the hassle of somebody trying to convince you of something you already know you won’t do.

Show gratitude

You can’t control how people will react to your refusal, but you can show gratitude. Somebody making a request of you may do so because they think you’re trustworthy or have a special skill; just because it’s flattering doesn’t mean you should agree to it!

Showing gratitude is another way of softening the blow of a refusal: “I’m afraid not, but thank you so much for thinking of me”.

Practicing mindfulness and zen meditation in your daily life can help foster feels of gratitude.

Offer alternatives

Sometimes a request could be just as easily fulfilled by somebody else. If your friend asks you to help them move, but you’re busy, you can always say “I know John is free this Saturday, why don’t you ask him?”

Similarly, a helpful tip can go a long way: “I know this great home removal service that would be much quicker than me!”

Offering an alternative is a way of showing that you do want the requester to succeed – it’s just that, on this occasion, you’re not the person for them!

Practise, practise, practise!

We often tell ourselves stories about our personalities. Statements like “I’m not assertive” can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

But it is never too late to learn new ways of living, and one way is to learn new interpersonal skills. Think of saying ‘no’ as a skill. And, like with all skills, you get better with practice.

And you can always start small. Practice saying ‘no’ in low-stakes situations. This will prepare you, and when those bigger requests come in, your refusal will be more stress-free.

Ask to make your decision later

You may feel put on the spot when someone asks something of you, flounder and agree to something that you later come to regret.

You don’t always need to give an answer right away. Ask for some time to think about it, or to check your schedule. Of course, you can still say ‘no’ in the end, but the fact that you’ve taken the time to really consider it can show someone that you’ve at least taken their request seriously.

Learn to let go of guilt

Guilt is surely one of the main obstacles to saying ‘no’. We might fret that we’ve let someone down and changed their opinion of us. Learning to say ‘no’ effectively is also learning to let go of a lot of this guilt. After all, you are entitled to live life on your own terms – just like everybody else.

Feelings of guilt can linger for a long, long time. Freeing yourself of them is a hard road as we try to reconcile with the past. See our post about letting go of the past.

Look after your physical and mental health

Have you ever agreed to something and later called it a “moment of weakness”? That’s more than a figure of speech. Your decisions flow from you as a living person – one with mental and physical needs. You might notice that when you’re sleep-deprived, for example, it’s harder to say no to things.

Take the time to look after your physical and mental well-being; you will build up the kind of resilience necessary to say ‘no’ when it’s necessary. This is a vital tool in helping you assert yourself.

To learn more, check out our post on having a zen-like day.

Manage expectations

There’s nothing wrong with being helpful, but it is important to set boundaries and manage expectations. None of us want to be taken advantage of, and being clear about expectations can set the groundwork for when you need to refuse somebody.

This is especially true in the workplace, where we’re often expected to go above and beyond the call of duty. Let people know upfront when you will and won’t be available. It is your choice; You do not always need to be on call 24/7.

Know Your Values

So often we unwittingly say ‘yes’ because we weren’t clear in our minds about our own expectations, beliefs, and values. And so we end up being swept along in somebody else’s plans. But knowing your core values is fundamental to your decision-making. It can guard you against manipulative tactics and being taken advantage of.

Knowing your values is an ongoing process over a lifetime. Practicing mindfulness in your everyday life is a great way to find a route to your core values. See our article on how to practice it in your everyday life.

Conclusion If there’s one insight I hope you have gained from this post, it’s this: as much as saying ‘yes’ can have a positive value, ‘no’ has just as much power in helping you live a stress free life on your own terms.


Armine is a wonderful writer, content manager and general site-looker-after. She upholds all the positive traits of Zen, and keeps us calm, happy and enlightened.

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