Here at my college, as part of our diploma training, we teach assertiveness training. One of the better self-help books about assertiveness training is entitled “When I say No, I feel guilty” by Manuel Smith. Though it is only one small component part of learning to assert yourself effectively, ethically and for your benefit, it has so many rammifications for other areas of your life when you learn to say no more often. 

If you suffer from saying “No” to people, you are not alone! Many of us often struggle to say no to others. Saying no is not as easy as it sounds. Saying no to certain people at certain times can be potentially damaging to your friendships, relationships, and career. We fear rejection, anger, and being unlikeable when we think of saying no. We also don’t want others to consider us rude, selfish, and impolite. Saying yes to everything and anything that comes your way just because saying no makes you uncomfortable can stunt your growth and cause you to burn out. When you say yes to everything, you often do things that are not conducive to your growth.

Moreover, you can get so caught on saying yes to everyone that you don’t even know what you want for yourself. This compulsive need to please everyone all of the time can be harmful to your personal and professional growth, but it can also put your mental health at risk. Although learning to say no can be challenging at first, it is not impossible. Learning how to say no at times like these can save you a lot of stress and anxiety. You need to realise that saying no to something you are uncomfortable with doesn’t make you a bad person. It just means you are prioritising yourself over others. This article shares eight ways that can help you say no.

Say “No” to merely good and “yes” to Great.

We realise you cannot possibly say no to everything in life. Saying yes is just as important as saying no. Saying yes opens you up to new challenges and new possibilities. It makes you more accepting and open minded. Moreover, saying yes makes you feel good about yourself. By saying yes, you are in a stronger position to help others, which makes you feel better. But the problem is when you say no to everything. Make a rule that you only say yes to great things.

By great, I mean that it adds to your value. That is conducive to your growth. Things that contribute to your wellbeing and happiness. And you should say no to merely good things. That makes you uncomfortable or don’t contribute to your happiness. Things that take your time and attention from activities that matter. This distinction will come in handy when you face a hard time deciding when to say yes or pass.

Understand that saying “yes” is not always the right thing to do

If you ever find yourself having difficulty saying no, remind yourself that Warren Buffet once said: “Successful people say no to almost everything.” If not, then take the word of the world’s sixth wealthiest person (at time of writing) and one of the most successful businessmen of all time. When you say no, you save yourself time, money, attention, and energy to say yes to important things. Scientific research shows that no improves productivity and mental health.

So, whenever you have a hard time saying no, just remember that your success and well-being depend on it. Also, remind yourself that when you are saying yes to someone else, you make that person happy at your own expense. Another important thing you can learn from the most successful personalities of the world is that they don’t make excuses and try to justify saying no. They remain true to themselves and say no because they don’t feel like it.

You are not responsible for how others respond.

Most of the time, we say yes because we are uncertain about how the other person will react. Sometimes we say yes because we know exactly how the other person will react. We ‘know’ that the other person will resent us, dislike us, or lash out at us for saying no. knowing the other person’s reaction, and we fear rejection and anger.

Fear of disappointment

Most of the time, we fear disappointment. We don’t want to disappoint another person who puts faith in us and comes up to us with his problems. But the main reason behind all these people-pleasing is our intense desire to be liked and appreciated. We are afraid that not doing what we are asked to will result in others disliking us. When such thoughts hold you captive in times like these, remind yourself you are not responsible for how others respond or how they feel about you. It is not your duty to be at their disposal.

  Lead to waste of your time

Moreover, saying yes to everything can cause you to regret the yes responses and lead to a huge waste of your time. In his book, the entrepreneur James Altucher says, “When you say yes to something you don’t want to do, here is the result: you hate what you are doing, you resent the person who asked you, and you hurt yourself”. Saying yes can never be a good thing when you don’t mean it and when it comes from resentment. Moreover, as shocking as it may sound, our compulsive people-pleasing can also be a form of manipulation.


People-pleasers depend on the validation and acceptance of others and, in doing so, are not honest with themselves or others. People-pleasing means that we are misrepresenting ourselves and hiding our true feelings. We are not disclosing all the information to others. By saying yes to everything, we try to manipulate the outcomes. By not saying no, we try to control and manipulate the way others feel about us. Therefore, try being true to yourself. Learn how to say no. Own your full authenticity, and don’t worry about trying to control how others feel about you. Moreover, acknowledging that we are not responsible for others’ reactions allows us to let go of control, embrace surrender, and allow ourselves some mental peace.

Create boundaries

Many of us struggle with boundaries. It is important to understand that you have to create your boundaries; they don’t come already built into relationships. If a huge chunk of your day is filled with other people’s demands and requests, then the chances are that you have not established your boundaries. Remember that saying no doesn’t mean that you are rejecting another person. It simply means you are prioritising your own needs and commitments.

Reframe your boundaries as policies that you must always follow and abide by. Establishing boundaries like not taking work calls on weekends and after office hours will help you say no to others, and they will understand that your answer has nothing to do with them. Saying no just means being honest with yourself and respecting your boundaries, and soon they will accept it and do the same. So, if you are struggling with telling people no, try setting some boundaries and communicating them to others.

Create a list of things you need to stop saying yes to

Just like a to-do list, make a “not-to-do” list. When you say yes to things that don’t make you happy or contribute to your growth, you waste your energy and time. To fully devote your energy and attention to things that matter the most, you must try to step away from things that don’t advance your goals. Create a list of things you need to say no to and make a strong commitment to not do these things from now on. For example, add “not replying to work emails on weekends” to your list. Once you identify the things you need to stop doing and commit to not doing them, you will be able to find time for activities that contribute something valuable to your life.

Seek advice from others

Most of us can relate to the disease of people-pleasing. If you have been a victim of people-pleasing and have no idea how to say no to other people effectively, then ask your family and friends for help would be good. If help from family and friends doesn’t work for you and you can’t seem to break away from the vicious cycle of people-pleasing, don’t hesitate to seek professional health. Saying yes to everything can seriously affect your mental health and wellbeing. At times seeking the help of a therapist becomes a necessity. A therapist can help you deal with the situation more effectively the next time you have been put on the spot.

Assert yourself effectively

If you find it difficult to say no in the workplace, learn some tactics to become a more assertive employee. Assertiveness strategies are those you can use to control and engineer outcomes that you want. Being influential and assertive can give you the power you need to say no to tasks that you do not want to do. Moreover, when you are assertive, it becomes harder for others to push you around and force you to say yes to everything.

In addition to this, part of being more assertive and ideally influential is having greater self-confidence. When you are more self-confident, you are more honest with yourself. You are no longer afraid of what others might think or feel about you. You become more true to yourself and stop pleasing people. So, if you want to boost your self-confidence and want to be able to say no to people at your workplace, try out a combination of push and pull influential tactics.

Saying no to others is equivalent to saying yes to your well-being.

Saying yes to everything and anything can cause you to burn out. Moreover, it adds unnecessary stress and anxiety to your life that could have been simply avoided by using the word no. When stress becomes prolonged and overwhelming, it causes long term risks and medical problems like depression, muscle tension, bipolar disorder, sleep problems, and use of drugs and alcohol. Stress can have a huge range of mental and physical side effects. So, when you are saying no to others, you prioritise your wellness over other people’s needs.

Moreover, saying no to others saves up your valuable time that you can invest in much-needed wellness activities such as meditation and jogging. Instead of being occupied with unnecessary tasks, learn to say no and use the free time to do anything that allows you to unwind and relax. In this way, you can participate in activities that contribute to your wellness instead of hurting it.

Final Word

Saying no to everything is hard, but it is not impossible. If you feel overcommitted or overworked, remember “no” is a small word that can help you regain control over your life and save you a ton of anxiety and stress. If you are unsure how to say no to other people, then go through the eight tips summarised in this article. In my experience and within the literature, creating boundaries, saying yes to only great things, and making a not-to-do list work best when struggling with the word no.

Remember, this is not forcing you to say no to everything. Just the things that make you uncomfortable and miserable. It’s also important to remember that overcommitting often leads to underdelivering. Professor Patrick says, “You have obligations. But within the limits of your control, it’s about operating at the most optimal level.” Reminding yourself that you are in charge of your life can also help you say no when need be. It also gives you a sense of empowerment. So, stop doling out easy yeses and be socially obliging all the time and say no when you feel like it. It will only help you by making your life easier.


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