Five Ways to Say NO Without Feeling Bad About It

How to say no and not feel bad about doing it. Stop saying yes all the time.

Do you ever feel like you are always saying yes? 


Do you find it really hard to say no, especially without feeling bad about it afterward?


Finally, do you find yourself putting your own priorities aside while saying yes to others? 


They’re asking you for something, and you feel like if you say no they’re going to resent you. So you’re tempted to say yes even though you don’t want to. Ever been there? We all have. I am going to show you five ways to say no without feeling bad about it.


In these situations, if you say yes, you’re going to be frustrated with yourself. You’re also likely to feel resentful and angry with them… even though you could have just said no.


Research shows that saying yes just in order to please others, avoid being judged or just avoid the unpleasant feeling of having to say no, doesn’t only create a cycle of terrible feelings, but also deals a significant amount of damage to your relationships. In other words, being “too nice” can cause some serious problems.


Let’s change this pattern of self-sabotaging behavior.  Once you get to its root, you’ll be able to change absolutely any behavior. I promise. If you struggle with saying no to others and find yourself worn out, stressed and resentful, this article is going to be a huge relief for you.


It’s time to stop pleasing others at the expense of what is right for you.  I’m going to show you how to say no without feeling bad about it, as a new, healthy habit to adopt. If you look at the root causes of your stress, you will find out that much of it has to do with your inability to say no, or in other words- to take care of yourself by setting healthy boundaries.


Adopting the habit of saying no without feeling bad about it will allow you to move forward with your life and become a lot less stressed and a lot more successful. Here are five ways to say no without feeling bad about it, all backed up by science:


  1. Five Ways To Say No: Blame Something Subjective


Blaming something subjective such as your workload or your schedule makes you no completely non-personal. It is circumstance-based and as such, it is out of your control. People have a hard time accepting a ‘no’ when they perceive it as personal, but they actually have a very easy time accepting ‘no’ for an answer when it is based on circumstances. You see, the people that ask for your time, attention, focus, and money, may not realize what situation they are putting you in, or they may care more about what they want than about how that impacts you.


The easiest way to deal with these people without having a relationship with them go completely sour is to decide that you live by clear principles and define to yourself what those are.  For example: “I cannot be interrupted when I am at work unless it is an emergency”. It’s easier to make decisions if you are clear with yourself on what your policy is (in other words, what your boundaries are)  and people are more likely to respect your responses.

Also, there’s less chance of someone feeling personally rejected if it’s clear this is a “rule” you live by consistently. 


  1. Repeat this Mantra to Yourself: “I Am Setting Healthy Boundaries”


People sometimes have a hard time saying no because they haven’t taken the time to evaluate their relationships and understand their role within the relationship. We basically have a hard time saying no when we are sensitive to other people’s needs more than we are sensitive to our own. This happens a lot to children of narcissistic parents and to people who feel insecure. In both cases, the notion is that we gain our place by doing what others want of us, which ensures to us that we will be loved and validated. Not a good place to be in at all!


The problem is that oftentimes we do not even realize the role that we play in our relationships- the pleaser who in their mind depends on pleasing for the sake of the relationship’s survival. Learn to become more powerful by becoming more assertive in clarifying your role in the relationship that you are in- whoever that person may be in your life. When you truly understand the dynamic and your role, you won’t feel as worried about the consequences of saying no. You’ll realize that your relationship is solid and can withstand your saying no. In other words- that it is time to stop thinking that by saying yes you are gaining love or validation.


  1. Understand that saying NO is the essence of success


One lesson we can learn from Warren Buffet is that “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.” I call this ‘the art of elimination’. Successful people are incredibly focused. They are focused on their goals, and they are focused on what they need to do in order to get there. You can either focus on your goals or you can focus on constantly pleasing others.

You cannot do both. Being in a loop of saying yes to things that you really shouldn’t say yes to will waste your time, money and energy. You would become much more successful if you drop the guilt that is associated in your mind with saying no, stop saying yes just to please others , and keep yourself laser-focused.

Steve Jobs prophetically supported this notion of saying no at an Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 1997. Here’s what he said:

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
Here are some things to say NO to, that will make you more successful: 

  • Say NO to overworking yourself
  • Say NO to doing all the work- delegate
  • Say NO to people that waste your time
  • Say NO to negative and judgmental people
  • Say NO to people that make you feel drained
  • Say NO to people-pleasing. It is time to outgrow this bad habit.

  1. Don’t Dance Around Saying No. Just Say It.


Don’t dance around saying ‘no’ by avoiding the other person, ignoring them or offering weak excuses about why you said no. The ‘why’ doesn’t matter, and this only provides an opening for the other person to negotiate your boundaries. You can provide a brief explanation, or you can just say a short and polite no.

The fewer words the better, and the most important part of it for you is to feel the boundary that you have just set and to be able to explain it to yourself because you are the only person that you owe an explanation to. It is important that you know why you set the boundary, why it matters to you, and why you stand behind it. It is important because more than likely you will need to set this boundary over and over again, so you need to be clear on your own principles so that you can stand behind them and be consistent. Being direct when you say no is not rude. You can be genuine and respectful while still remaining assertive and clear. It is not passive, passive-aggressive, or aggressive. 


  1. Don’t offer an apology, offer an alternative


Offering an excuse may seem like the polite way to decline a request but it sets you up for an awkward situation. The problem with offering an excuse is it gives people the opportunity to change their request so that your excuse doesn’t justify your no.


Here are some examples of offering an alternative instead of simply saying no:


  • You decline someone’s invitation to go out for coffee because you already have plans on the day they requested…then they ask you what day works best for you.
  • You tell someone you can’t go to a party because you have no one to watch the kids…they offer to let you bring your kids.
  • You apologize for not being able to help someone with a project because you’re working towards a major deadline…they reply that they’d love to have your help once you’re finished with your current project.


No matter what excuse you offer, people who are determined to get you to say yes can come up with a way to invalidate it. By simply thanking people for their request and telling them that you can’t agree to it, you prevent them from arguing with you.


If the person asking you for something is someone who you want to maintain a positive relationship with, you can lessen the impact of your no by offering an alternative that satisfies their want while being something that is more preferable to you.


For example:

  • If someone wants you to collaborate with them on a project, introduce them to someone else who might be interested.
  • Your new friend invites you to a bar but loud places and drinking isn’t your thing. Ask them if they want to grab a coffee or do another activity instead.
  • An eager young employee in your office offers to help you with an important project but you fear their involvement would slow down progress. Ask them if they want to work with you on a lower pressure project instead.

The goal is to offer compromise so they don’t take offense to you saying no and you don’t feel guilty for turning down a request that would add unneeded stress to your life.


Here’s what I want you to know: You can do what you set your mind to; it all comes down to setting boundaries in order to keep yourself from running around pleasing others instead of taking care of yourself, your life, your goals.

You have the power to take control of your time, money, and energy, one ‘no’ at a time.
You have things to do and goals to crush. 

Dr. Michelle Rozen
Dr. Michelle Rozen

Dr. Michelle Rozen, Ph.D., is a highly respected authority on the psychology of change. She is one of the most booked motivational speakers nationwide as well as internationally, and a frequent guest on media outlets such as NBC, ABC, FOX News, and CNN on topics related to dealing with change in our world and in every aspect of our lives, so that we can do better and feel better.

Her most recent book, 2 Second Decisions helps people power through with their most challenging decisions through turbulent times.

Dr. Michelle Rozen consistently speaks for Fortune 500 companies and her clients include some of the most recognizable companies in the world including Johnson & Johnson, Merrill Lynch, Pfizer, and The U.S. Navy. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Psychology and resides in the greater NYC area.

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