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The Art of Saying No
By Jackie Lapin

How many times have you said “yes” to someone when you really wanted to say “no!”

There are many reasons why people don’t speak up when they should, among them are:

  • Not wanting to hurt someone’s feeling
  • Not feeling confident or courageous enough to stand up for oneself
  • Feeling obligated or that you ”owe” something to someone
  • Not wanting to deal with the drama that comes from saying no to the asker
  • Feeling that someone else must know better than you
  • Being undecided or ambivalent, you let someone else make the decision
  • Feeling pressured, and afraid of the consequences if you decline
  • Feeling overwhelmed and it’s easier to yes than no
  • Your ego is out of control, and you say yes because you’re flattered

The result of saying yes, when one should say no, is that our society is filled with unhappy, overcommitted people, who are resentful, angry and often abused or taken-advantage of. You can begin to change the world by simply becoming one of those people who can say “no” in a way that speaks from your heart.

Saying no doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience. If done consciously, it can easy, kind and thoughtful. You can spare the feelings of the asker and still be firm in your resolution to say “no.”

Here are some tips:

First, you must be firm. If you appear to waver, it will be an invitation for the asker to continue the pursuit. However, you can be firm without being harsh.

Second, be conscious of your tone of voice and choice of words. Think about how you would feel if you were being declined. Make your tone and choice of words respectful, inclusive and conscious of the person’s humanity. Be careful not to imply that your time is more important than theirs.

Third, be grateful and appreciative. Always express your gratitude in the beginning of your “no” statement. That demonstrates your acknowledgment of how important this is to other person.

Fourth, be kind. Let your own kindness be the shield of protection for you and your inviter. Allow kindness to connect you instead of divide you, even when you must disappoint the other person.

So how does one say “no” nicely?

Here are some phrases that you can use:

  • I’m so deeply grateful for your invitation, but I already have other commitments.
  • Thank you for considering me, but my energy is already overtaxed and I need the time to take care of myself.
  • Your friendship means a great deal to me, but I have to decline this time because there is just too much on my plate.
  • As much as I would like, I cannot be of assistance, but let me suggest someone who might be…
  • It is so kind of you to choose me for your (project, team, etc) and I know it will be successful under your leadership, but I just don’t have the time to give you, and that would be unfair to all of your other participants.
  • I so appreciate you asking and as much as I would like to, I am not able to do that now.
  • I thank you for including me, but this opportunity is just not right for me. It will take me away from other priorities that are more in keeping with my current direction.
  • In a perfect world, I would be delighted to be of help, but I just can’t give you the quality time you need at this point, so I have to kindly decline your request.
  • You know you mean a great deal to me, but I’m physically not up to the task.
  • know that I have helped in the past, I am so glad that I could, but I have less time available now, so I appreciate your understanding when I must decline this time.
  • It is so nice of you to ask me and I’m truly touched (honored is another good word), but my family has to come first, so I cannot help at this time.
  • I know this means a lot to you, and I will lend my moral support, but more I cannot give at this time.
  • I am so deeply grateful for your offer of help, but this is something I must do myself.
  • I know that you would like me to be your sounding board, and I so appreciate your trust in me. However, as your friend, I want the best for you and I think that you would find greater benefit in sharing your worries with a counselor who is far more skilled than I in helping you to find peace of mind.

Feel free to mix and match one opening with a different closing in each of these phrases, to find just the right way to say “no” to whatever circumstances present themselves.
What is important is to stick to your guns! Don’t allow pressure, guilt, obligation or your general “niceness” to suck you in against your true desire to resist. And there is no need to explain yourself beyond the point of saying “no.” If you do, you open the door for your asker to debate and find holes in your reasoning. Just simply repeat again your gracious declining statement until it is clearly heard and your asker gives up!

You owe it to yourself to perfect the art of saying “no.” Your life belongs to you. It is within your control and you should spend your time as you see fit. We all have tremendous demands on us, but choose carefully which demands you want to fulfill so that you stay emotionally, spiritually and physically strong and healthy.