How to Say NO Guilt-Free

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The discomfort of saying no.

NO. That’s one word. Just one syllable! These two letters together have the power to make people feel uneasy. Are you someone who has difficulty saying no even when you don’t want to say yes? Why is that?

I often hear the following from new clients:

  • “I don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.”
  • “Saying no would make me a bad/uncaring/rude person.”
  • “I am afraid of the repercussions if I say no.”
  • “I don’t want to be seen as selfish, lazy, or uncooperative.”
  • “I don’t want to disappoint others.”

And the list goes on and on…

And what happens as a result? They feel pressured, their sense of freedom is taken away, they do tasks that aren’t a good fit for them, and sometimes they engage in activities they believe to be a pointless waste of time. They have to keep their opinions to themselves and put up with work and obligations that could have been avoided. In time, resentment builds and relationships deteriorate. Does that sound familiar?

Would you like to free yourself from the obligation to say yes when you don’t mean it?

You see, the way you feel about saying no comes from your own beliefs and your perspective on each situation. To be able to say no guilt-free you need to be willing to see things differently.

Why saying no is a good thing.

When you know, logically or intuitively, that what is being asked isn’t right for you, you owe it to yourself to look for reasons (not excuses but compelling reasons) to say no.

“Don’t tell them yes if it means saying no to yourself!”
"Understand that at any point in time, saying yes to one thing means saying no to all of the alternatives".

For example, if you are asked to work on a project that seems pointless to you, and you say yes anyway, you are actually saying no to all of the better things you could have done with your time. You could have worked on something that matters. Or you could have completed your work by 5 pm or 6 pm and gone home to your family.

Every yes given against your will creates unnecessary sacrifice. Stop doing it! It’s not worth it. Look at what it is costing you and start giving yourself permission to stand up for yourself and say no when you mean no.

If you are afraid of consequences, look for ways to minimize risks. I promise you, there is always a way when you are determined to find it.

If it’s hard for you to realize how saying no is the right thing to do, think about all of the benefits you will create by refusing things that shouldn’t have been asked of you in the first place.

If you need help with this, don’t hesitate to reach out.

HOW to Say NO Tactfully

Ideally, I would love for you to feel so confident and at ease that you could simply say no without feeling the need to justify your decision or use avoidance tactics.

But until then… here are some relatively tactful ways to prevent someone from dumping their burden on you.

  • If it seems too difficult to say no, you may say “not right now” which is essentially the same thing but in a softer way. You are not rejecting the person but the moment, so don’t feel guilty! It’s not personal.
  • A way to delay the issue and often make it go away forever is to say “I’ll get back to you on that in a few days.” Most people will either go ask someone else to get an answer right away, or they will wait and fail to follow-up with you.
  • Before giving any answer you can ask “What other options are available?” Get the other person thinking about how they can solve their problems without involving you.
  • If they have no idea, you may suggest alternatives to help the person find a way to get their needs met without compromising your well-being and sanity.
  • Feel free to recommend someone else. You never know, that person may actually want this opportunity. And if not, you are giving them a chance to learn to say no, so either way, you are doing them a favor.
  • Personally, I don’t like to use delay and avoidance tactics so what I do most often is point out why I am not the right person for the task, and who would be instead. People quickly learn not to ask anything that isn’t a fit for my core strengths and talents.
  • If I am on the fence and I am not sure I want to say yes, I will typically come up with a task for the other person to do first. For example, I might ask them to draft objectives, create strategies, do some market research, or anything else that is directly related to the project in question. If they follow-through and deliver what I asked, I know that they are serious and I choose to get involved. If they drop the ball, I won’t follow-up either and spare myself from having to deal with someone unreliable or uncommitted.

Note that if the person asking is your supervisor, you will need a much more strategic approach. Saying no may not be appropriate but you have the power to help your boss change his/her mind. Contact me if you’d like to find out how to get what you want through collaboration and understanding.

In conclusion, there are countless ways to say no with tact and appreciation for the other person. Give yourself permission to try it out. It may feel uncomfortable at first but with a little practice it will become more natural, and you will see positive effects on your life as well as others’.

You will lower your stress, have more time to focus on what matters to you, be happier, and your relationships are likely to improve. Say goodbye to guilt and resentment, and say hello to freedom and fulfillment. Don’t be selfish, but don’t be selfless either. You matter! Don't give away your personal power.

You can do it! If you need any help, I am only an email or phone call away.

About the author: Since 2010 Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits. Audrey is the go-to Success Coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.