The Gentle Art of Saying No


Knowing what you don’t want to do in life is just as important as knowing what you do want to do.

It’s no surprise that so many of us struggle to say no. As children we’re taught that no is off limits and it’s usually met with a negative reaction from our parents or teachers. We learn to expect some kind of fall-out when we use the word, which can lead to a fear of rejection and a desire to please others.

First learn to let go

Remind yourself that as an adult you can trust yourself to know when to say no and that it’s your right to do so. With a little practice it will become easier to turn down requests for favours or invitations that don’t appeal to you. Practise in the mirror or with a friend until you feel more comfortable with giving a negative response.

Avoid making excuses

It might seem like an easy way out but when you say no quickly followed by an explanation, you leave yourself open to a modified request. For example, if you say no to a dinner invitation because you’re not keen on someone and to soften the blow tell them that you’re too busy with work this week, they’ll only ask you the following week. Then you’ll be back in the same situation of having to turn them down but it will be even more awkward the second time around. Simply thank them for asking you but decline politely.

How to say no and keep your job

Saying no at work is sometimes necessary but it should be approached with caution. On the other hand, acknowledging when you’re taking on too much and respectfully turning down more work will lead to greater job fulfilment and productivity in the long term. There’s nothing wrong with exercising your right to say no at work; the trick is to do it in a constructive way. Don’t flatly turn down a new task: first show an interest and ask questions that show you’re making a considered decision. When it comes to saying no in the workplace it’s important to offer a thorough, honest explanation and try to come up with an alternative solution that benefits both parties.

The greatest love of all

The words ‘love yourself’ can make us squirm but the benefits are undeniable. There’s plenty of research to support the idea that putting your own needs first and having a healthy sense of self-worth leads to a richer, more fulfilling life. Create a list of what you’d like more of in your life and what you’d like less of in the future. Start by introducing – even just a few minutes a day – an activity that you’d like to do more of, for example, reading a book, meditating, having a bath. Over time, work to phase out what you’d like to do less off: grocery shopping (do it online), helping kids with homework (pay for a tutor), driving (get the whole family onto public transport). Change happens slowly but investing time in yourself is a worthwhile investment.