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How to Say "No" and Not Feel Guilty About It

Updated on December 10, 2016
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Sadie Holloway is a workshop facilitator who teaches interpersonal communication skills to help people strengthen their relationships.

Do you feel guilty when you say "No" to someone? Do you end up saying "Yes" to things you don't want to do because you don't want to let someone down? These tips on how to say "No" without feeling guilty can help put your mind at ease and make you feel more assertive.

You should be free to say "No" without feeling guilty!

Imagine all the space and time you will free up for the things you do want to do when you learn how to say "No" without feeling bad about it.
Imagine all the space and time you will free up for the things you do want to do when you learn how to say "No" without feeling bad about it.

Who is the most challenging person for you to say "No" to without feeling guilty?

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Saying “no” can be hard, especially for recovering people-pleasers like me. But over the last few years I’ve been practicing the essential art of saying “no" and here's what I've learned.

The first step to learning how to say “no” is to recognize the impact that not standing up for yourself can have on your self-esteem, your well-being and the quality of your relationships. For me and many other people too, saying “yes” to something we don’t want to do can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety and resentment.

Learning to say ‘no’ to requests you can’t or don’t want to fulfill takes plenty of patience and practice. Here are some of the things that I try to remember when I feel myself being pressured to say “yes” to something I don’t want to do.

Be yourself. The wonderful thing about speaking up and letting your needs be known is that others will get to know the authentic you: your preferences, your tastes, your values and your ethics. Have you ever heard your friend say to you: “I didn’t know you didn’t like (ballet/green bean casserole/insert dreaded item here). Why didn’t you tell me? I would have done things differently had I known.”

Believe it or not, your friends and family do want you to be happy, and they probably don’t intend to make your life difficult. But if you don’t take responsibility for expressing your needs, you’re depriving others of an opportunity to share in doing things you like to do with you.

Prioritize the request. Ask yourself if saying “yes” to this request will help you achieve a personal goal, whether it be a short-term goal or a long-term goal. For example, will helping your best friend move on the day before your SAT exam help you ace the test? Or would saying “no” give you more time to study and prepare for the exam?

Find your own power phrases. Practicing the use of assertive phrases is a great way to get clear about what you want. These can include phrases such as:

  • I have another perspective...
  • I need your help with...
  • I can’t do that right now...

Here's a gentle reminder: If you forget any of your power phrases, you can always remind yourself that “no” is a complete sentence.

Be honest. Saying “no” to something that you don’t want to do is better than being dishonest and saying “yes” just to please someone else. Don’t lie to yourself or to the person making the request, especially if it means making a commitment you can’t possibly fulfill; you will only delay the let-down. In the long-run, your honesty will be appreciated by your true friends and family.

If you are unsure about what to do, ask the other person if the decision can wait. If saying “yes” to something doesn’t fit in with your schedule right now, ask if the decision can wait a few days.

Trust yourself. Trust that you are a good, sensible person and when it comes to decisions that would put someone in harm’s way, your intuition will guide you. Your sense of empathy, compassion and genuine concern for someone else’s safety will kick in and keep you from saying “no" at the wrong time. For example, if a friend was being harassed at a bar and needed a ride home because she was worried about being followed, your concern for her safety would kick in and tell you to drive her home. Trust that your gut will guide you in your decisions.

If you have trouble saying no, make sure that you recognize and congratulate yourself every time you do stand up for yourself and your needs. Remind yourself that every time you say “No" you are actually saying "Yes" to yourself and your own health and well-being.

Be who you are and say what you mean. Because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind!

— Dr. Seuss
Prioritizing other people's requests and being honest and sincere about what you can and can not do allows you to experience more joy and happiness because your generosity will be coming from the heart.
Prioritizing other people's requests and being honest and sincere about what you can and can not do allows you to experience more joy and happiness because your generosity will be coming from the heart.

© 2016 Sadie Holloway

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    Sadie Holloway 8 months ago

    Thanks, Vocalcoach! And congratulations on finding the courage to stand up and do what was best for you!

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    Audrey Hunt 8 months ago from Nashville Tn.

    Your hub found me at just the right time. I made a decision today to say "no" to a family member. IT took all the courage I could muster up to do this. It's been a long time coming. This article confirmed to me that I made the right decision. Big thanks to you! Sharing.