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How to Say No: A Guide to Standing Your Ground

How to Say No: A Guide to Being Nice AND Standing Your Ground - stop hand glows red on stop sign telling people to walk in a city and saying no
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It’s a strange phenomena, isn’t it? You’re quite certain you intended to say “no”, but somehow a wildly enthusiastic “yes” slipped out first. Now you’ve found yourself under a mountain of work, doing favours you don’t have the time or capacity for, and let’s not forget all those events you’re going to when honestly, you’d just rather stay home. We all have the best of intentions, saying yes feels like the right thing to do, but saying no is taking a stand to value your priorities, your time and care for yourself and other people (how? We’ll get into that). You’ve already taken the first step towards learning how to say no just by being here, so let’s get on with it.

“Live your life for you not for anyone else. Don’t let the fear of being judged, rejected or disliked stop you from being yourself” ~Sonya Parker

Say yes to saying no

Saying no is something a lot of people struggle with. Most of the time, I think that stems from the fact that people believe saying no isn’t okay, that they should try to always say yes and need a huge reason to say no. But this simply isn’t true. You only have one life, if you spend it always trying to please other people, you won’t be happy yourself (and will then, in turn, struggle to make anyone else happy). So before we talk about how to say no, let’s talk about why it’s okay to say no.

Off the bat, let’s highlight that it’s completely okay to:

  • Change your mind
  • Take time to make decisions
  • Not give a reason why you’re saying no
  • Always say no

Why do you find it hard to say no?

The first step in getting better at most things is identifying what trips you up. So, when we look at how to say no, the first question is why is saying no difficult for you? There are four core ways I’ve seen this manifest:

  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of missing out
  • Fear of judgement
  • Feeling guilty putting yourself first, like you have to help others, no matter the cost

All of these thoughts come from a lack of self-confidence and valuing yourself.

When you begin to understand that your time, opinion and desires are just as important as everyone else’s, saying no will become a lot easier. This of course, is easier said than done, but by replacing your fearful or guilty thoughts, you can rewire your thinking (and be happier and more helpful for it!). Here’s some examples of counters for your thoughts.

How to counteract guilty thoughts about saying no

Saying no is selfish – I should always put others first. This is my biggest problem, I feel guilty for not putting 110% into everyone else. But the truth can be found, of all places, in the safety spiel that cabin crews make, “apply your own mask before helping others”. You won’t be able to help anyone if you’re not in a fit state yourself.

I should always say yes. Sometimes, you won’t be the best person for the job – accepting a promotion you know isn’t a good fit for you will only cause discomfort and trouble for you, your colleagues and your company. Not to mention, if your heart really isn’t in something and deep down you don’t want to be there, you’re never going to show up with 110%.

So-and-so won’t like/choose/value me if I say no. If saying no to something will jeopardise a relationship or opportunity in your life, know that it probably means it’s not a great fit for you anyway. Your environment, job and relationships should align with and support your values and priorities, so disagreement over a ‘no’ could be a sign that it’s not a good fit for you. But, of course, this doesn’t always mean they’re being disrespectful or ‘a bad person’, you could just have different expectations. Consider the relationship and see what you think is best.

I’ll miss out on opportunities. If you’re spread too thin or worse, don’t really want to be doing something, you won’t get the best results. It’ll also dilute the energy you can put into each opportunity so nothing’s getting your best. If you don’t believe me, believe Warren Buffett (I mean, he’s pretty successful, right?) – “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”

How to say no

Know your priorities, values and rules

Learning yourself and understanding your principles, values and rules is always going to be a work in progress, but it makes the process of saying no a lot easier. With priorities in place, you should be able to make decisions on whether to say yes or no more quickly and with a better understanding of why you’re making that call.

Making a choice that truly aligns with your values will also help minimise any feelings of guilt about saying no. Focus on the reasons why you’ve made your choice. Maybe you’re prioritising time with family, focusing on a goal or sticking to your values. This will help you feel better about your decision. And makes it easier for the person on the receiving end if you’re consistent. When people know where your boundaries are, they’re less likely to ask for things they know you’d be against and will be more understanding if you say no.

Be very honest with yourself here, too. If you convince yourself you don’t want to go out because you’re too tired and too busy, but the real reason is that you’re a little scared and worried about social situations, you’re going to feel upset and guilty. Lying to others feels bad, but lying to yourself feels terrible.

Give a reason

First, in conflict with the title, it’s important to know that you don’t have to give a reason. A firm no should be more than enough for someone to respect your decision, but, of course, giving a reason will always help the other person understand and accept your answer better. I recently stumbled across an interesting study that showed that when someone uses the word ‘because’, it makes people more likely to accept what you were saying (in their experiment, over 30% more likely!), even if the reason wasn’t very compelling.

If I can give one piece of advice here, it’s to be honest. Don’t conjure up an ailing aunt because it makes your excuse more palatable, lying will make you feel guilty and this could encourage you to change your mind or give in next time.

Not to mention, using your real reason will also help you reaffirm why you’ve made the choice you have and like we said earlier, this will help you feel more confident.

Cushion it with kindness

Whilst you’re always well within your right to decline, it can still be disappointing for the other person. So, if it fits the situation, empathise. Phrases like ‘I know this puts you in a difficult situation’ or ‘I know this isn’t the answer you were hoping for’ will help to ease the blow and show that, despite declining, you’re still supportive and understanding.

If someone’s given you an opportunity, thank them, even if you decline it. Being gracious will help to soften any hurt or rejection the other person feels, as you show you value the offer, despite turning it down.

It is always worth remembering, though, that no matter how nice you are, some people won’t take no as an answer. In these cases, stick to your guns, remember that your choice, reason and opinion is valuable.

Stand your ground

It’s important to understand the power of ‘no’, the word itself holds a lot of meaning and used right, holds a lot of power too. Consider the difference between ‘Sorry, I don’t think I can’ and ‘Sorry, but no, I can’t do that’. Using the word no and avoiding phrases like ‘I think that’ or ‘I don’t think so’ will help you sound more confident and certain. No room for negotiation here.

Your body language is just as important as your word choice. Making eye contact and speaking clearly will help you seem more confident. If you find this tricky and a request has been sprung upon you by surprise, ask for time to consider to compose yourself before answering.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learnt here (from my awkward mind to yours) it’s to be brief. The more certain you sound, the more willing people will be to accept your answer. Drawing out your excuses and leading your listener on a long trail of nervous explanations will only make you sound more unsure and gives them more space to convince you to change your mind.

Offer an alternative

This won’t always fit the situation, if you need to give a firm no – do! But, if you can offer an alternative suggestion, it can be really helpful for the other person and even strengthen your relationship.

If your issue is at work, ask your boss to discuss reshuffling your priorities. This reflects the question back to your boss to decide what takes precedence and makes them more aware of what’s on your plate.

If it’s an opportunity you can’t take or aren’t suitable for, recommend someone you know or offer to help in a different way. When you’re offered an opportunity, decide whether or not this is a door you want to completely shut, or whether you’d like to reconsider at a later date. Negotiating can secure you a more suitable and beneficial opportunity you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

There you have it! Learning how to say no is an art, but with these tips and a little practice, you should be mastering it in no time. It’s so important to make decisions based on your values and what you truly want. When you start living your life intentionally, you’ll become more confident, happy and successful – I guarantee it!

Love, Ella-Rose xx

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  • Amber Page

    This is such an informative post! It is so important to know you can say no too!

    Amber – The Unpredicted Page

    • Ella-Rose

      Thank you! I’m glad you found it helpful 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  • Lauren

    This is a great informative post. I think not saying no to things can really take it’s toll sometimes. It’s O.K. to not say yes to everything and not please everyone!

    • Ella-Rose

      Completely agree! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Unwanted Life

    Really good people-pleaser advice. I no I’ve struggled with this issue before, but now I don’t mind saying no. My mental health is more important to me than being someone’s doormat

    • Ella-Rose

      I’m pleased you think so! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Alexandra

    I love this post and I love the way you convey your thoughts! This information is not only interesting, it’s also crucial for a healthy mindset and a balanced life. It’s important to put yourself first sometimes and saying NO might be the one thing that must be done for you to feel better. And this is O-K-A-Y! Love this post. Thank you for sharing.

    • Ella-Rose

      Thank you so much! It can be really tricky, but I completely agree with you, it can make all the difference 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  • Anika

    It definitely takes a lot of practise but makes such a difference to your confidence and mindset. Great post, love the motivation!

    Anika |

    • Ella-Rose

      It definitely does, there’s always something you can get better at, but every little helps! Thanks for commenting 🙂

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