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How To Say & Show No

There may be a part of you that’s wondering, Why do I have to learn how to be more assertive when I say NO? Surely people should see by my unhappiness or reluctance, or know that their request/expectation is too much or over the line? Surely if a person has already got a lot from me, they should just give me a break? In fact, surely if I’ve been saying yes to them, it’s about time they said yes to me?

If you’ve been thinking along these lines, you’re not alone. There’s a part of me that has at times felt irritated by the injustice of it all. Why the hell should I have to put my energy into being my own gatekeeper? Why should you?

Because if you don’t, no one else will.

It’s your job to manage your own life and know your own line. Good fences make good neighbours. You must be the gatekeeper to your Circle of Trust and use your boundaries to guide and direct people on what is and isn't permissible to you.

Is it a pain in the bum that people test the waters and chance their arm in the hope that you’ll be too nice / embarrassed / intimidated etc, to say no? Absofrickinlutely.

Should people know their own boundaries and those of others? Erm, yes, but clearly some people don’t. People shouldn’t rob, maim, abuse, and kill but they do. People shouldn’t drink and drive and they should be careful on the roads but not all people are. All we can do is do the best by ourselves and act with at a minimum, care, trust, and respect, both towards ourselves and others, and while we still won’t be able to control the uncontrollable, what we will be able to do is be in command of ourselves and not be putting ourselves into danger and harm unnecessarily. We will manage our own feelings and behaviour and cut a hell of a lot of bullshit out of our lives in the process.

You have two options: You can bemoan the unfairness and injustice of it all and try to get others to change so that you can feel more comfortable in your own position or, you can define you and your space with your boundaries and by knowing your line.

In turn you will live by your values which means that you will live your life authentically and you will also be happier. The alternative is very painful and limiting.

With this in mind, I want to walk you through learning to say no.

These three key conditions must be examined before you agree to anything. At first you will have to be very conscious about evaluating these conditions and this is because you have been unconsciously complying or feeling compelled to comply. Until you learn to associate requests and expectations with different responses – you having an active response and considering your own feelings, needs, expectations, wishes and needs, as well as considering whether you’re actually experiencing a threat if you feel afraid – these will take a bit more energy. You will also need more willpower when you feel distracted and/or stressed.

  1. If saying yes to someone means that you’re saying no to treating and regarding you without love, care, trust, and respect, your answer must be a resounding no.
  2. Before you say yes to something, ask yourself whether you would still say yes if your underlying expectation of a particular reward or outcome wasn’t met. If the answer is no, you need to reconsider saying yes, and if you do say yes, it must be for authentic reasons.
  3. You don’t need to focus on being compliant – you need to be conscious about what you’re consenting to whether it’s passively or explicitly. If you’re being compliant in the sense of being inclined to agree with or obey a person as if you’re living according to ‘rules’, it’s highly likely that your answer should and must be no.

Basically, does it devalue you, are you being authentic and acting without a hidden agenda, and are you feeling compliant and under obligation?

How to say ‘No’

The ideas I give you here are about how to say no in a way that respects both of you.


When you’re in a situation where a request has been made or you sense that there’s an expectation for you to comply, you need to ground yourself in the present so that you can respond appropriately.

1. Adjust yourself physically. Taking a deep breath will release tension – you tend to unconsciously hold your breath or tighten up when feeling stressed. Stepping back can also help as consciously changing your body position will make you aware of your body and mind responses and in turn make you more present. Leave your desk, go for a quick walk to the bathroom – basically take a moment to adjust.

2. Say ‘I’m safe, I am secure’ in your head if you’re around people or out loud if you can. This will calm down your inner critic and help you to get grounded.

3. Scratch the outcomes. If it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t happened yet. You cannot say no or yes authentically if you’re not listening due to being in the past or forecasting doom. ‘What’s happening now?’ is a better question to ask yourself so that you can be aware of the situation as well as your own responses.

4. Check for internal and external fear. Basically, is there external evidence of a threat or is it based on your own feelings and assumptions. See the feelings classes.


‘No.’ – The Hard No
Alternative(s): ‘No I can’t’. ‘Sorry, no.’ ‘I definitely won’t be able to.’ ‘Thanks for asking but no.’

Often we forget that no is a complete sentence but it is and there are instances where a ‘hard no’, a no, straight, no chaser, is critical: When you are declining an outrageous, offensive, obscene, or over the line request, and when you have previously given a ‘soft no’, – a no with frills of explanations, excuses etc – and that person is still on your case. Basically, you give a hard no when the person had no business asking or expecting it in the first place or when the person is not listening to you.

I would highly recommend that you decide in advance what your boundaries are and what you must say no to. i.e. You have previous experiences and evidence to indicate where a hard no is a must. Identify key people and situations. It is unlikely, unless every last person in your life is shady, that your key people list is going to be long. Any person who has displayed code red behaviour, who has taken advantage of or even abused you, who is aggressive or passive aggressive, and who keeps objecting to your no’s, should be on the list.

Look at your cues and triggers list and note any recurring situations where you are likely to feel out of your depth. For example, it might be having to make a complaint, or saying no by email, or saying no at work.

The Soft No’s.
‘Let me get back to you’ or ‘Let me think about this first and get back to you’.

This is one of the saviour lines for pleasers.

Not only do you get a chance to consider the request and get a sense of your own responses but you will also get the measure of the other party. Do they respect what you say? Or do they try to push you? Do they seem taken aback that you’re not automatically saying yes?

If they say that they need the answer now, respond with, ‘If that’s the case, my answer is no but thank you for asking.’

‘I’d love to do this but….’ and give a short, brief, firm explanation that does not contradict what came before the but. Try to stick to a 1-2 sentence explanation. It must not sound like a dog ate my homework or like you’re trying to guilt them or even like you’re justifying yourself. If it sounds shady, you’ll look shady which is why a hard no solves a lot of problems. If you tell some long-winded tale about all of these dramas that have befallen you, they’ll just end up feeling really awkward and even sorry that they asked you in the first place (which may be what you were aiming for), or they’ll just feel drained. If you sound like you’re justifying yourself, it will sound like you don’t believe that you should have said no and it will also sound long-winded. An assertive or aggressive person, particularly the latter, is likely to exploit over-explanation.

This doesn’t meet my needs but thanks for asking’ or, ‘This doesn’t meet my needs but I’ll keep you in mind’, or quite simply, ‘This doesn’t meet my needs so this won’t work for me.’

Obviously this is reliant on you knowing what your needs are in the first place. Keep in mind also that if you say this, this is explanation enough although some people will push you on this. ‘It doesn’t fit in with what I’m doing / where I’m headed.’ Remember your needs are your needs and theirs are theirs. They need to find a better match.

‘I’m not the right person for this. Have you thought about asking….?’ or ‘I won’t be able to but have you thought of asking _________’ or ‘This is better suited to…..’ Know yourself before you wreck yourself by over-promising yourself. You are not the only person who is able to do things. Delegate, suggest other people, don’t try to be a master controller of all things due to being afraid that someone else is going to look ‘better’ than you by saying yes to something that you actually want to say no to and that if you said yes to, it’s only for saving face and adding brownie points and You Owe Me credits that are only going to leave you feeling better temporarily.

‘Now isn’t a good time. Let’s talk about this __________’ or ‘Now isn’t a good time. If things haven’t change in X weeks / months time and my situation has changed, let’s talk about it then.’

‘Thanks for asking but I’ve already got other plans.’ If they try to get you to cancel, just say that you don’t want to be unfair to the other party. They will then know to ask in advance.

Go for specific. Example: They say, ‘I want you to do a threesome’ and instead of saying ‘I can’t do a threesome’ which has a helpless ring to it, you respond with, ‘I don’t do threesomes’. This in itself not only declines the request and the expectation but it asserts and verbalises your boundary. You would then follow through by not having the threesome. If the person persisted in pushing the threesome (or whatever it is), you would then say, ‘I recognise that you’re a persistent person and go after what you want and need but I’m also someone who knows what they want and need and I meant it when I said that I don’t do _________’ and then it’s opt out time.

Don’t entertain debates on your boundaries. This is a great way of showing no. A brief explanation is fine but on your core boundaries, particularly on code red stuff, don’t explain, don’t justify. ‘I’m not going to argue/debate with you on this. If you want to discuss this in terms of understanding my position that’s one thing but if you want to argue against my values, that’s another thing.’

Say no to the request. The request and the person are not the same thing. Be polite and kind and this becomes less about rejection and everything to do with saying no. A person who makes a request or invitation is not expecting every person to say yes, unless they’re not quite living in reality and have a hard time accepting no and that’s not your issue to manage.

Preempt with key people or key situations. I love a pre-emptive no because in knowing that certain people tend to get carried away with their expectations of you, you can lay the foundations for a future no.

  • Verbalise your current priorities. For instance, there’s no need to make out like you’re busier than a world leader but talk positively about your current life and how you’ve had to cut back on certain things so that you can be focused. When that person says no, you can remind them that you’re cutting back.
  • Ask them what they need from you and clarify priorities. This is key with coworkers and bosses. Then when they ask for above and beyond, you can refer back to this conversation or even an email.
  • Say yes (if it’s appropriate) this time but let them know that it’s the last time or that you will be unable to do it next time or that you will need a minimum of X amount of times notice in future or whatever it is. Then when they don’t, you just remind them of this conversation.

Rule out the possibility of being put in the position of being asked. The best example of this is with dates. If you don’t want to be in that awkward situation of a sexual decision early on in dating, make your own way to and from dates, don’t go back to their place (or invite them into yours), and don’t have dates at your place.

If a person tends to leave it to the last minute to ask you to do something and you find that you’re in limbo as a result, say no to anything last minute and go ahead and make plans. ‘Sorry but when we hadn’t made a firm arrangement, I made other plans. I didn’t want to keep the others waiting'.

Have an answer prepared in advance. Practice your no usage.

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