Woman learning how to say no

5 Ways to More Confidently Say ‘No’

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

By Dr. Jamie Long

During the pilot episode of popular 90’s sitcom ‘Friends’, the guys ask Phoebe if she’d like to help them put together Ross’s new furniture. She responds brilliantly with “Oh, I wish I could, but I don’t want to.” If only setting a boundary were this easy for everyone!

Woman learning how to say no

Most of us realize the importance of holding healthy boundaries and declining unreasonable requests from others. And still, the act of saying no can be really difficult. The idea of disappointing those we care about or being judged negatively is often enough to get us to bypass our personal rights, wants, and needs. 

Of course, there are numerous situations where being flexible and doing something we don’t feel excited to do is a healthy act. Afterall, flexibility, dependability, and kindness are important traits of strong relationships. However, if you’ve determined that it’s in your best interest to decline a request to do something, here are some tips to help you say no. 

  1. Empathic Assertion – A type of assertive statement in which one empathizes with the other person while also stating their position.  

    A skillful and kind way to decline something is to first validate the other person’s perspective. Although the person may still be disappointed that you can’t do what they want, it may soften the blow for them to know that you at least understand their situation. When a person feels heard and understood, it often creates a soothing, comforting feeling. In contrast, when a person feels like you don’t get it, they may keep trying to convince you of why you need to do what they want you to do.

    Example of empathic assertion: “I know that if I don’t drive you to school it means that you’ll have to get up early to catch the bus and that will be hard. And still, this is what has to happen.” 
  1. Confident Body Language – Don’t forget to communicate that you mean business by way of your face, body, and voice. 

    Have you ever heard someone assert a point of view that came across more like a question? If you have, you probably (subconsciously or not) detected that there was some wiggle room in getting what you want. 

    A lack of confident body language to back up spoken words, can leave the impression that what is being said is negotiable and/or disputable. In contrast, when a person makes a statement with strong eye contact, a straight back, and a clear tone of voice, that presence is less likely to invite further debate. 

    Let’s look at an example. Imagine eating lunch with a friend who always takes food from your plate and you’re tired of it. Today is the day that you nip this french-fry-theavery in the spud! 

    Scenario A:

    As anticipated, your friend starts reaching over to your plate while simultaneously asking “can I have a fry?” You straighten your back, look her dead in the eye and with a firm tone you say, “No Susan, you cannot have any of my fries today, I’m eating them all.” {{No fries stolen}}

    Scenario B:

    Your friend reaches over to your plate while simultaneously asking “can I have a fry?” You break eye contact, look down, and quietly whisper “Oh, um, well actually…” {{Fry stealing ensues}} 

    Obviously, the above example is a silly one, but you get the point, right? Back up what you say with congruent facial expressions, strong eye contact, and good body posture. 
  1. Delay giving an answer – Pause before saying yes or no. 

    When we’re asked to do something we don’t want to do, a wave of stress can wash over us. To get rid of this awkward scenario we might blurt out a ‘yes’ before we had a second to fully assess the situation. With the delay strategy, you’ll resist the urge to accept a request before you’ve considered whether you can, should, and/or want to by literally expressing that you need more time. 

    Example: “Oh, let me think about that and I’ll get back to you.” 
That would be great
  1. Exit the conversation – After you’ve said no, end the conversation or change the subject. 

    When someone is trying to get what they want, they may not be quick to leave the conversation after the first no. A perfect example of this is telemarketing calls. Once a telemarketer has you on the line, you better bet your cell phone minutes that they aren’t hanging up first. 

    Why do we keep negotiating with people after we’ve said no? Maybe it’s because we don’t want to be rude, or we feel bad, or we’re hoping they’ll give up? But isn’t it rude for a person to keep badgering you after you’ve said no, often more than once? It is!

    If you’ve clearly declined the request, empower yourself to end the conversation. Example: “I’ve told you my answer and I’m ending this conversation now.” 
  1. Don’t take the bait. – Ignore attacks, attempts to manipulate, persuade, or pressure.

    Sometimes (okay, oftentimes) people really hate to be told ‘no.’ Unfortunately, the frustration a person feels when told ‘no’ can prompt strong urges to go into attack mode. Teenagers can be masters at this! Think of the things an angry teen might say to their parent after they were told they can’t get something they want. They may tell them that they’re a horrible parent, that they hate them, or that they are so [insert unflattering character defect here].

    Whether it be a petulant teenager or a manipulative adult going below the belt in an effort to get their way – it’s important to stay the course. Be a “broken record” stating your position over and over. Don’t get pulled into the extraneous dialogue. 

Ways to decline a request without using the word ‘no’:

  1. I wish I could, but I can’t. 
  2. No thank you, I already have plans. 
  3. I have so much on my plate right now, I can’t help this time.
  4. Thank you so much for thinking of me for this project, but I’m needed on other assignments right now.
  5. I hate to disappoint you, but this is what I need to do. 

Hopefully, this post has given you a few ideas of ways you can practice assertively declining requests and/or saying no. Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is a very common struggle for people. It’s also a popular topic in therapy. If you’d like to get support with people-pleasing, lack of assertiveness, and learn more skills in this area, please reach out. Increasing healthy boundary setting is a great goal in therapy!  

And finally, before you go, an important first step in training your assertiveness muscles is to familiarize yourself with your universal, personal rights. Download a list of your universal rights below.

Download Your Universal Rights

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Dr. Jamie Long - Psychologist Fort Lauderdale - The Psychology Group
License: PY7730

Dr. Jamie Long is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Managing Partner of The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale. She specializes in anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Call (954) 488-2933 x1 or email today to discuss how her services can help you.

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