We worry about the word no. It makes us feel guilty and anxious, because we think it will worsen the relationships with our colleagues, friends, and family. We fear the discomfort, the confrontation, and the awkward moments that those two simple letters threaten. So we say yes instead.

But there's a cost to saying yes to everything, mostly that you risk taking on more than you can shoulder. You end up doing things you never wanted to do in the first place, and harbor a quiet anger to the person who asked as a result. This can lead to burnout and may worsen your relationships more than if you'd just said no.

The solution is to say no in the right way. Saying no is a skill you can build. In this blog post, we will give you some guidance on how you can say no in a way that everyone, including yourself, will respect. But first, when is the right time to say no?

When to Say No

You should say no to avoid overburdening yourself. This mean you need a good understanding of your physical, mental, and emotional limits. You need to understand your priorities and how much effort saying yes to a particular something will involve.

That may sound like a lot, but your gut feeling will help. If saying yes to something causes dread or stress before you've even agreed to it, you'll probably want to decline. Especially when you're already snowed under with responsibilities, it may be worth making no your default response.

At least temporarily. There are times when saying yes by default is a good idea. When you're new to a city or workplace, for example. When you're looking for new opportunities or want to make new friends. Or when someone seeks for your genuine advice.

Just don't settle for maybe. If you use maybe because you don't dare say no, you're setting yourself up for more problems. It adds an extra layer of stress because you've only postponed the decision. Even worse, you're stringing the other person along. It's not honest to them nor to yourself. Be clear with your decision and go for either yes or no.

How to Say No

The Right Words Matter

Don't just bark no at someone's request. Be gentle with your message. Massage your phrasing into something that the other can digest easily. Be firm, but polite too. Simple phrases like "I'm afraid I can't," or "I have something else going on" are gentle but clear refusals that don't make it about the other person, but about your own constraints.

Soft No Vs. Hard No

A hard no means you wouldn't do it regardless of your circumstances. It's non-negotiable. You won't go skydiving no matter how much free time or money you have. A soft no is only a no because of your current circumstances. You can't go skydiving because you're too busy these days. The difference between a hard and soft is crucial. Here are three examples of soft no phrases:

  • With my current workload, I can't start this until two weeks from now.
  • I can't make it this weekend. Let's catch up soon though.
  • I'm not taking on new clients anymore, but I'll reach out when a slot frees up.

The Power of Silence

Sometimes, a request can be so baffling, outrageous, or out-of-touch that the best response is not to say anything at all. Silence is a powerful tool to make the other reflect on their request. This certainly won't work in all contexts, but it can be quite effective when you're face-to-face with someone and they come with an unreasonable demand.

Don't JADE (Justify, Argue, Defend, Explain)

Because we feel guilty saying no, we also feel compelled to explain why we're saying no. But your justifications can invite the other to try and sway you toward a yes. The acronym JADE is a reminder that no means no. You don't need to justify, argue, defend, or explain your refusal.

The Importance of Body Language

When you're saying no to someone in person, make sure that your body language stays positive. Maintain eye contact, have a neutral facial expression, and keep your body posture open. Don't look down and don't shift your body away from the other. Such mismatched verbal and non-verbal signals can make your no less effective.

It's an Act of Self-Care

Learning how to say no is an act of self-care. Practice this simple but vital skill and regain control over your time and energy. It's not about the refusing the other. It's about saying yes to your priorities, peace of mind, and well-being.