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How to say no

Having too much to do can take a toll on your mental and physical health. Saying no is an important skill to learn.

The word "nope" painted on wooden boards

The struggle to say no

Are there not enough hours in the day to do what you need to do? Does looking at your full agenda cause you stress? If so, then you are likely overscheduled. But why? For some people, the reason they are overscheduled is that they have a hard time saying "no" to the requests of others, which can add more projects, tasks and responsibilities to an already busy schedule.

Having too many things to do can take a toll on a person’s health and lead to stress, feelings of being overwhelmed and even depression or exhaustion. There are several reasons why a person struggles with saying no. Some feel obliged; some are afraid that they will hurt a person's feelings or disappoint them; some believe they can "do it all;" and others are afraid of negative reactions or of jeopardizing a relationship if they say no. Regardless of the reason, saying no in a respectful way is a skill anyone can build.

Some points to consider when saying no

  • You have the right to say no: Your time is just as precious as anyone else’s. You are not obliged to take on everything you are asked to do. Saying no is not selfish. It means that you are aware of your limits and that you want to honour the commitments you have already made.
  • Focus on what is important: Before saying yes to a request, think about how it fits with what is important to you.  If it is important — and you have the time to take it on — go ahead and say yes.  If not, then politely decline the request.
  • Be brief: It is acceptable to provide a reason for denying a request. However, don't go on and on about it. Provide a brief explanation (if you choose to do so) and then move on.
  • Use the broken record technique: Some people don’t easily take no for an answer. When someone is persistent, repeat your wishes without adding anything more. You can start with "As I just said …"  If they persist, respond with "It seems that you are not hearing me. What I am saying is …" and then end the discussion.
  • When caught off guard: If someone surprises you with a request and you don’t know what to say, try "I have to think about it" or "I’'l get back to you."

Some ways to say no

In case you are in need of a way to say no, try the following:

  • Just no: "Thanks but I am going to pass."
  • The gracious no: "I really appreciate you asking me, but my time is already committed."
  • The "someone else's decision" no: "I promised my partner/mother/kids that I wouldn’t take on new project without discussing it with them first."
  • The "I'm already booked" no: "I appreciate you thinking of me, but I'm afraid I'm already booked that day."
  • The "family reason" no: "Thank you for the invitation. That's the day I spend time with my boyfriend/mother/sister and I’ve decided not to miss that special time together."
  • The alternative no: "I just don’t have the time to help you, but let's think of someone else/another way, etc."

For more information, consult How to Say "NO" Assertively [PDF] from the Center for Clinical Interventions.





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