Your boss tries to put yet another project on your plate. Your friends make plans you would rather skip. Your family members try to talk you into doing things you do not want to do. At home and in the workplace, many people fall into a habit of always saying yes, even when they want to say no.  

The power of saying no can make for big improvements in your life. If you are seeking advice on how to say no, the following tips and insights can help you harness the power of no.

The Power of Saying No: Why Is It Important To Say No Sometimes?

Fear of conflict, avoiding coming off as rude or disappointing, desire to help, and not wanting to miss out are just a few reasons saying no can be difficult. If you are tempted to say “yes” whenever a friend, family member, or coworker asks for something, consider the following:

  • Setting boundaries: Saying no to various commitments can help set boundaries in friendships and at work. Having boundaries can help you create mutually beneficial relationships and even give you the confidence to communicate with those around you.
  • Fostering your mental health and well-being: Being a people pleaser who puts others’ needs in front of their own can create a lot of stress and anxiety in your life. Being able to say no to things that will put too much on your plate can help you eliminate these negative influences and preserve your mental health.

Four Ways to Start Saying No

Having a few concrete strategies for saying no can make it easier to answer a proposition negatively. Try some of the following approaches and tactics next time you would like to harness the power of saying no, and decline an offer:

1. Respond with polite but firm rejection statements

Some people have trouble saying no because they do not want to hurt another person’s feelings. Finding some polite but firm ways to decline invitations or propositions can help you communicate how you are feeling without seeming rude or unkind. Career FAQ recommends using the following polite ways to say no in various situations:

  • Thank you for thinking of me, but I have too much on my plate at this time
  • I will pass but I appreciate the invitation
  • I am not really into [dancing/bowling/action movies/proposed activity], but thank you for inviting me
  • Not for me, thank you
  • Not today, thank you

2. Use “because” if you need to

While you should not feel required to provide a reason every time you say no, some people may have more respect for your decision if you say why you are unable to participate. Studies show offering a “because” in conversation can make another person more likely to accept what you are saying, so providing a reason for declining may help others feel better about receiving a negative answer.

The Harvard Business Review recommends offering a clear and straightforward reason when you need to decline taking on more projects in the workplace. A statement such as “I do not have the capacity to take on this project because I do not have time to do it well and my other projects would suffer” may be better received than a simple “no” in the same situation.  

3. Change your semantics

How you say something can have a big impact on your conviction behind a statement and how people receive your response. A recent study by the Journal of Consumer Research found interesting results when studying syntax of how people responded to temptation when trying to exercise more and eat less unhealthy food:

In this study, researchers created three groups and assigned each group to respond to propositions about breaking their health commitments negatively, but use different wording. The first group was told to simply say “no,” for example, when someone asked them “would you like a cookie” group members would say “no.” The next group would say “I can’t” or “I can’t eat cookies” and the third would say “I don’t eat cookies.”  

Thirty-three percent of participants in the “no” group achieved their goal, 10% of the “I can’t” group achieved their goal, and 80 percent of the “I don’t” group achieved their goal.

The researchers found those who said “I don’t” felt empowered because those words were backing a personal choice, whereas those who said “I can’t” were demotivated because they felt restricted. Putting this practice into action may include statements phrased in the following way:

  • I don’t drink alcohol on weeknights
  • I don’t skip the gym when I have a class scheduled
  • I don’t eat artificial sweeteners

4. Offer an alternative

Some situations require a firm no, but presenting an alternative can also be a good option depending on the circumstances. This solution may be useful in a customer service occupation when customers are seeking something you do not provide, or in social situations where you would like to participate but cannot at this time. Consider offering alternatives in the following ways next time you would like to decline an offer but present another option:  

  • For unhappy customers:  Try to present them with a solution, even if it is not exactly what they are asking for. This may mean presenting alternative dates and times, similar brands and products, or pointing them in the direction of a company that does sell what they are looking for.
  • For bosses who are asking too much: Ask if they can help you prioritize all of the things they are asking to you to by providing deadlines for each project, or see if there is a smaller way you can contribute to the project.
  • For friends you care about but you need to say no to: Give them a quick and clear reason why you cannot help them or spend time with them at this time. You may want to share a time when you will be free or a reason for not being able to participate.

Harnessing the power of saying no is one of many ways to foster your mental health. For more pro-tips, check out ways to start practicing self-love.

Megan Herndon

Megan is a Seattle-based writer who covers health and wellness. She has worked in content marketing and journalism for a number of organizations including The Seattle Globalist, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and The Jakarta Globe. She has a BA in journalism from the University of Washington and is currently working on her second UW degree, a Master of Communication and Digital Media. Born and raised in Hawaii and currently embracing the Pacific Northwest lifestyle, Megan loves all things active and outdoors including hiking, camping, outrigger canoe paddling, and yoga.

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