The Art of Saying “No”



Your friend asks if you would edit her essay. Your kid’s teacher asks if you would run the bake sale. Your boss asks if you would stay late.

What do you do?

When you can’t take on one more thing? When your plate is overflowing? When you simply don’t want to?

Has anyone here mastered the art of saying “No”?

You in the orange shirt.

“Um…open your mouth and say the word ‘no’.”

Hmm. Interesting.

*pushes button*

*person in orange shirt drops through trap door*

Anyone else?

Good. Now that we’re all on the same proverbial page, let’s talk.


Some will say it varies. It depends on who is asking and what they’re asking. I’ll allow this line of reasoning. To a point. This is part of the issue.

I mean, really, if your boss asks you nicely (or not-so-nicely) to stay late, most people say, “Sure, you wretched piece of…” or probably just, “Sure.” Some people, like me for instance, say, “Of course! Not a problem!” Then those people, like me for instance, wonder what just happened.

If a friend wants help with a project, most people will probably help but they’ll be honest about what kind of time they have to offer. After all, their friend will understand. Some people, like me for instance, will sigh internally and not speak up about my lack of time and tell them to send it (if they haven’t already sent it because they know I’ll say yes).

It’s easier to say no to the bake sale request. Or so it would seem. But then some people, let’s say…um…me for example, begin thinking about the last time they assisted in any of their son’s school activities. Then, when they can’t remember (because it was like 7 months ago), say, “Absolutely!”

These answers come from negative emotions such as obligation or worry (employer), fear of upsetting someone (friend), and guilt (school).

For one who has not mastered the art of saying no, or even taken classes in it, this can be problematic regardless of the circumstances.

And for one who feels guilty or obligated or in some way responsible for making everyone happy, saying no to demands on your time can be damn near impossible. This is what I lovingly call The Yes Mess.

I want to scream. I want to scream loudly, “Hell, no! Are you kidding?! I couldn’t fit another thing into my schedule if I wanted to! I’m not a robot! Aaaahhhhh!” Or something like that. Instead, I say, “Sure! No problem!”

It is a problem.

I feel like this is linked to self-worth. By neglecting myself for others, I’m basically saying that other people’s projects, assignments, happiness, work, time, etc. are more important than my own. In other words, other people are more important than I am.

They’re not.

I need to remember that.

Instead of immediately saying yes to everything, I am making myself a promise to say, “Probably.” Or “I think so.” I know. It’s ridiculous. It’s not even close to a “no” but it’s as close as I can realistically get at the moment. Baby steps. Plus, this might make it easier to come back and say that I can’t.

If I’ve already agreed to something, that is even more difficult for me. I don’t want to let people down so I run myself into the ground making sure I do it. Or I let it slip through one of the numerous cracks in my life and feel horribly guilty.

So. If I say yes, I am giving myself permission to say, “I thought I could fit this in my schedule but I just can’t right now.”

I am not exaggerating when I say this stuff stresses me out, hurts my health, and keeps me up at night.

My health and well-being (and that of my family) must come before any demands on my time.

That’s really the end of that. Let’s see how this goes.



Have you mastered the art of saying “no”? If not, why? If so, how do you do it?


54 thoughts on “The Art of Saying “No”

  1. It is linked to self-esteem but can only say that the first “no” that you give, is the biggest hurdle and being honest about why you can’t (people do understand when you speak from the heart), releases the weight off of you, making it easier for you to change gear and place needs where it’s needed the most. It is such a common problem- you are certainly not alone, but saying that doesn’t make it any easier! Perhaps have one goal. Keep it realistic; aim to jump one hurdle and see how it goes. x

    Liked by 1 person

    • I imagine, with time, it will get easier. I totally believe that first “no” would be the most difficult. Or, for some, the first dozen. 😉 I’m looking forward to having this weight lifted off me. As with many things, “easier said than done” applies here for sure but it’s something that must be done. Keeping it realistic here. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m better at saying no sometimes than others, but I do often fall in the trap of complacency or saying yes, even when the plate is already utterly full. Guilt is part of it though there are different sides to guilt. On most of the occasions I’ve said no, one of two things happen, either nothing and people are quite understanding, or a person gets offended and they show their true colors.

    For me, I think it’s all about not wanting to cause the disappointment others cause in part. But as time passes, you know who you can trust and with what. So definitely not a bad thing. As for saying no, it’s a vital skill to learn and when I put it into practice, a lot of things flow better even if I initially feel bad. I think it’s more about clearing up expectations. So here’s to saying no and the people who get it and are not only mature about it, but kind. To the rest, well may they find peace and complacency elsewhere.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly. Sometimes it is easier than other times (like I said, depending on who is asking and what they’re asking). Guilt is such an awful reason to make decisions though we do it a lot, I think. I like that you’ve moved past the initial feeling of guilt (realizing it’s temporary) and things “flow better” after that. Gives me hope. Expectations. Yes. Whose? Theirs? Our own? Both?

      “To the rest of you! May you find peace and complacency elsewhere!” 😀


  3. Thanks for writing this post for me, Sarah. I’m so pleased you agreed when I asked. No, seriously. You’ve just written about me. I’m the same. We both need to turn it around and say “Yes” to ourselves and our family. Maybe instead of “Probably” or “I think so” we should respond with, “I’m busy right now, let me check” or “I’m not sure, let me think about it”.
    I read another post on this topic recently. I can’t remember who wrote it. Was it you? I’m in a similar predicament at the moment with someone who asked me to read and comment on a story. I suggested she attend the critique group with me as they would be better qualified than I to give her the feedback and support she needs. She agreed so I committed to attending even though I then realised that the date didn’t really suit me. We were going to travel to the critique group together so, for me, it would have killed two birds with one stone. She then pulled out, saying that she really wanted to talk to me about it first!!!! Yes, I should give up my writing time to listen to her talk about her story when I’m not really in a position to provide her with any more useful information than I already have. This is a person I have had no contact with for about 7 or 8 years, and contacted me out of the blue to ask for help. I should have said “No” straight out instead of suggesting something that may have worked. I need to learn to say “Yes” to me and “No” to others. However, if it’s a friend or a relative, I will mostly say “Yes” because, after all, aren’t they what really matter in life?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Funny, I had “I’m not sure, let me think about it.” But…I deleted that and replaced it with the “I think so.” Realistically, I don’t think I will say, “I’m not sure…” So I went with something I think I can and will actually do. Baby steps. I’m so sick of coming up with things to help myself then not doing them. Figured I’d start slowly. Truth is, I’m being buried alive. It’s kind of unpleasant.

      I wrote “The Yes Mess” the day before this post. It was a short one about how I’ve been thinking about this so it was probably me you were thinking of. 🙂

      Oh, that sounds like a total Yes Mess! (And, unfortunately, sounds a lot like something I would have done.) I hope it worked out okay. ??? Vanessa suggested in the comments here something along the lines of, “What am I saying ‘no’ to in my own life to say ‘yes’ to this?” I love that. I’ve already put in on a post-it near my computer. ❤ Perhaps I'll stick it to my face.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, we’re a complicated species, aren’t we. Why do we make things difficult for ourselves.
        You’re right. I probably was thinking of you! I can’t think of a nicer person to be thinking of. 🙂
        Oh, and take that silly sticky note off your face. It doesn’t really suit you. Not your colour at all. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Saying “No” is not complicated on condition that you can follow through with a rationale. Sadly, there is often no rationale other than a personal preference and saying “No” based on personal preference will (like every other decision) have repercussions. The question becomes “Are you going to be comfortable with the repercussions of saying ‘No’?” If you are… say “No”. If you are not… say “Yes”. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d like to get away from the feeling of having to rationalize my decision to others. In truth, I don’t owe them an explanation. You’re probably right that most people expect a reason but I don’t want to live that way.

      And for those who have difficulty saying no, they will ALWAYS be uncomfortable with the repercussions. So…they’ll always say yes. I’d rather not think of those. I’d rather focus on myself and my family and friends. 🙂


      • I would suggest that you are overlooking basic courtesy. If a friends makes a perfectly reasonable request (their perspective), and you don’t agree (your perspective), then it would be courteous to give them a reason so they would understand and perhaps not ask you again. A “just because” position is not conducive to maintaining a social circle!


      • Overlooking basic courtesy? Haha! 😀 I think you don’t know me. Or perhaps I’m just rude. Regardless, I need to get away from feeling like I am required to rationalize my decisions and give reasons for my choices.

        The truth is, no matter how much you try, you can’t make everyone happy. Which is so fun and ironic because that is one of the points of this post.


      • I guess we will agree to disagree. I have no problems with saying no, and I always explain myself (which is how I would like to be treated), and I have some very stable and rewarding relationships. Works for me! 🙂


  5. It’s so stressful, Sarah. When I was younger, working, taking care of a house and kids and volunteering, I would wear myself out until I got sick. I think part of it is the time of life, part of it is fear of saying “no” for various reasons, and some a lack of strategies to set limits.

    You already know that taking care of yourself is vital. Do you schedule time for yourself? Mark it off on your daytimer or refrigerator as sacred time and enlist your family to make sure it happens. I wish you luck with this. Keep practicing “no” and you’ll get it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s where I am now. Taking care of kids, house, family, health, work, volunteering, writing… I am worn out. I am sick. It’s got to change. I cannot keep up and feel like I’m being buried alive. And I do think fear of saying no to others is part of it. That and obligation, wanting to keep everybody happy… It’s ridiculous.

      I get no time for myself. I am not taking care of myself at present. Yes, I know how vital it is. Even if I make a point to schedule some time, all the “me time” is taken up by unexpected things that pop up. It IS sacred time. It should be, anyway. It’s so difficult.

      I will keep practicing. Thank you. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I suppose it is self worth, isn’t it? It started with trying to impress aka please my parents because my bro was soooo much better at stuff they seemed to like and I wasn’t and so on. Not their fault only it was. Still I can and do say no but it is such an effort of will and comes with a sinking feeling that takes a while to replace with a sense of relief. That’s probably why the word I told you I need to kill off this year is ‘should’. Bastard word that.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m not sure about the self-worth but it does seem that way, doesn’t it? I mean, if you’re putting aside your own projects, plans, free time, happiness…to “help”, it feels less like helping and more like being a martyr. I think it really is linked to guilt, trying to please others, self-worth, maybe other things as well but, really, all negative. And it sure as hell can stem from childhood.

      I hate that “sinking feeling” (aka “guilt”) and I double hate the word “should”. Kill it off!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t know whether it’s linked to self-worth. But for me, it’s definitely linked to guilt. Treat others as you would want to be treated, right? Well, that’s not helpful when you’re running yourself ragged into the ground. When I nearly had a nervous breakdown Christmas 2015, the words ‘No’ suddenly found their way into my mouth. Until that point I’d never used them. It’s hard though. Don’t get me wrong, and I still can’t always say it, in fact, I don’t say it often enough. But I guess I just did with the blog. I have no answers. Only experiences and solidarity to share.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t know about self-worth, either. Was just thinking out loud. But, really, putting other’s needs/wants ahead of your own is…well…kind of a self-worth thing. Maybe. Definitely guilt. Either way = bad. No one is helped when you’re running yourself into the ground. And that’s what I’m doing. Glad you found your “no”. ❤


  8. Focus on what matters to you, the relationships you have or are building and get good at recognizing the benefits of commitment. You gave me a great revelation of a Yes Mess I’m in with a client. It was uncomfortable to go through, but I’ve been renegotiating a project and was willing to say no to certain aspects. Basically, we have to recognize that saying yes or no can have negative or positive outcomes and either answer may be uncomfortable. Best to focus on the outcome and be honest and uncomfortable from the beginning or when we recognize our first answer was a mistake. Ugh. Not easy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so happy to hear that you’re saying no to certain things within a project you’re already involved in. That was a mess but this is wonderful. You’re doing what you agreed to and probably making it better by saying you can’t commit to the time or you don’t think that’s the way to go or whatever.

      Completely agree about being honest and going through something uncomfortable to get to a place you want to be. It’s not easy but it’s the best way.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Me too! My dad has developed a good response for whenever someone asks him to do something: “That sounds neat! Let me think about it.” Basically, he shows enthusiasm while quietly asking for space to consider before committing. I would like to try to emulate his manner…I’m still working on it!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ha! 😀 “That sounds neat!” Some great enthusiasm right there.

      I love this: “quietly asking for space to consider before committing.” This is wonderful. I’m (obviously) still working on this, too, but this is such a nice way to say “no” for those of us who have difficulty doing so. Thanks, Sarrah.


    • I still live in the Yes Mess, too. *sigh* I’m working on it but I think it will take time. Although…I wonder why. Why should it take time? I feel like I’m making excuses but it really is more difficult for some than others. We are not robots. We cannot continue this way. (If I find a magical solution, I will shout it from the rooftops, my friend.) ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I have been working on strategies to avoid (or at least diminish) the Yes Mess, myself. (Great name, btw.)

    I say things like, “I can help you on Monday, and maybe part of Tuesday, but you’ll have to line up someone else for the rest of the week, as I have other commitments.” Or, “Here’s what I can do to help.” (After which I carefully limit my contribution to something I know I can handle.) I like Sarrah’s response, too. Saying you’d like to take part, but will get back to them after double checking your schedule is a way to say you do want to help, but need to be sure you actually have time to contribute. This avoids disappointing someone when you say yes, but really can’t live up to it, while also avoiding adding the straw that broke the camel’s back to your own load.

    It’s never going to be easy for someone of us say no. But if we want to stay sane, we have to work out a strategy or two to handle these situations.

    Great post, Sarah, and very funny, too! Good luck retraining yourself in how to handle this problem. And be sure to keep us posted when you find the perfect answers. Or even a few more imperfect, but possibly helpful, ones. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • See, this is what I meant when I said of course you want to help a friend but you’re realistic with the amount of time you can offer. I’m working on it. I love this: “Here’s what I can do to help.” That’s great.

      This: “disappointing someone when you say yes, but really can’t live up to it, while also…adding the straw that broke the camel’s back to your own load.” This is where I live. I’ve GOT to move.

      Thanks, Marcia. I will definitely let you know if I find any strategies. Right now…not looking so good. But I’m trying some of the brilliant ones here in the comments. ❤


  11. I’ve found that presenting myself as an utter emotional wreck who is barely managing to cope with life has reduced the number of requests made for my time. Breaking down in tears in front of people also helps. They tend to run the other direction pretty quickly. No one online has been very requesting of me lately, most likely due to my domain expiring, which caused a trickle effect of my website disappearing and my email throwing errors back at people. Hmmm. Perhaps that’s the digital universe saying ‘no’ on my behalf?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah, the digital (or IRL) universe saying “no” on your behalf. Yes, that’s happened to me. I love that. It usually comes in the form of missing appointments or getting sick. Good times.

      I’ve found that the “utter emotional wreck…barely managing to cope” doesn’t work for me as a “don’t ask me for help” tactic. Perhaps I’m doing it wrong. Hmm…


  12. A great post, Sarah – you absolutely nailed it! And it seems, reading the comments here, to have touched a nerve with a few people. Saying no is so much more difficult than it should be – like Sacha, I think it might be linked to guilt, but I love how you so succinctly put it that, by saying yes when we mean no, we are saying that other people’s projects are more important than our own. A timely reminder, thank you. And I haven’t mastered the art of saying no yet, but I find I’m getting slightly better at it with age… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Love your Comments. Putting other people’s interests ahead of your own is totally demeaning, which reminded me of a quote from long ago:

      “If you treated your friends the way you treat yourself… would you have any?”


      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Helen. ❤ Yeah, it should be easier. And I really do think that saying yes and placing other's needs/wants ahead of your own (or in place of your own) really sends a message. If only to yourself. "Other people are more important." I hope you master the art of saying no very soon.

      Liked by 2 people

      • What might help is to really think through why it is difficult to say “No”. Follow-on questions could be “What am I afraid of?” “What do I think will happen if I say ‘no'”. Hopefully you can progress to “I have a right to say ‘no’!” and “They cannot always expect me to agree.” It could well be that you have to reassess your friends. The goal must surely be to show the world who you really are, with all the likes and dislikes that go with it. Surely you have a right to be open and honest, and if some people cannot accept that, then it is their problem to deal with…not yours!

        Liked by 1 person

      • “I have a right to say no.” That is so very true. And getting away from expectations is always good. I totally agree that being honest about what I can and cannot do could result in a bad reaction that is really not my problem to take on. It’s theirs. Thanks. 🙂


  13. I go with “I’ll have to check my diary and come back to you” and then do a gut-check if I’m still inclined to say Yes – what am I saying No to in my own life? Reading time? Sleep time? Cuddle time? More often than not, it turns into a solid No. It has taken YEARS of practice and shedding off the need-to-please to get to this place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, exactly. A statement that gives you time and room to breathe before you instinctively agree to help. I absolutely love your thought about saying yes means you are saying no to something in your life. I am writing that down. “What am I saying no to in my own life for this?” I know it will take time but I have to start somewhere. Thank you. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think, for some people, it’s more of a challenge than it is for others. Fantastic to know your limits. That is really important. Once you are more aware of yourself and your limits, you can respect them easier. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m going to try it out. Or at least something like it. I have to. Can’t keep up like this. But, once you agree to something, it’s even more difficult to say no than it is initially. You’re right…this is a fair thing to say. Thanks. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m doing some catch-up reading. 🙂 Oh this is such a relevant subject for many. Good discussion Sarah all around! For me the ‘art of saying no’ has become more about the choice of words I use to avoid conflict.
    But having said all that … sadly there will always be times when duty and obligation gets me and I commit because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do. There were lots of good suggestions in the comments. The one I use most frequently is: Thank them for asking or compliment them on the idea and then, “I’ll need some time to think about it and see how I feel about it. I’ll get back to you.” That gives me time to come up with a more appropriate response.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, yes. Avoiding conflict. I didn’t really address that in the post but that’s another reason. I guess the main thing here is that, if you say ‘yes’ when you want to say ‘no’ it’s usually, if not always, stemming from negative feelings/emotions.
      I love your response, I just don’t know if I’d be able to say that. I will, though, someday. I have to start small. That’s where the “I think so…” comes in. Gives me time so I’m not on the spot.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I have got better at saying no, as I’ve got older. I used to run myself into the ground trying to do everything and had years of feeling dreadful all the time. I was asked the other day to be on a committee. My heart sank when I was asked and yet I was still considering saying yes because I didn’t want to let people down. In the end I said I needed to think about it for a while and then after (apparently) giving it a lot of thought I turned down the opportunity. And I felt great for having done so 🙂 I have no wish to spend my life doing stuff I don’t want to and with that decision made I go on my gut response as to whether to say yes or no.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, you give me hope. ❤ I am currently running myself into the ground trying to do everything. But, alas, I am no spring chicken. I should have learned by now. (Which is, I suppose, why I'm writing about it.) I'm so happy you turned down the offer. Why we continue to worry about letting people down, I don't know. We can't spend out lives doing things we don't want to do. Good for you. I'll try to follow suit. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.