How To Say ‘No’

When I first went into marriage therapy, I learned that my go-to phrase for every request was “sure, no problem.” I had no idea how to say no, or that I even could say no. In therapy, I began to understand that I thought people would like me more if I just said yes to everything. I didn’t know I was afflicted with the ‘disease to please.’

Fast forward 10 years and I have discovered that the world doesn’t stop when I say no. Others either make arrangements for things to be taken care of, or some things turn out to be not that important…and I get to look after me in a way that makes me and my family feel better.

Five checkpoints for how to start saying “No!”:

Say no to children. As a parent, we sometimes have to say no to children for our own sanity. If carpooling one more time leaves you feeling resentful to the other parents in the neighbourhood, say no. Sometimes saying no means saying yes to you instead. As hard as it is to hear, our children will survive, but we may not if we say yes one more time. Remember you are also teaching them an important lesson about boundaries (make sure you respect theirs too). This phrase may come in handy to remember, ‘you have the right to ask and I have the right to say no.’


Avoid saying no by asking for help. Sometimes saying no requires you to ask someone else to say yes. In the above scenario, it may be that asking one of the other parents to carpool is the answer. If you really struggle with asking for help, here’s a phrase that might help, “I’m totally prepared for ‘no’, but I wonder if you could help me with…’

Hit the PAUSE button. Give yourself time to think about it and get back to the person. Don’t automatically say yes. We often need some time to actually think if we want to say yes. When we do this, we can make a decision based on rational analysis, rather than pure reaction. Here’s a phrase you might like to try “Do you mind if I ponder that? I’ll get back to you by Friday”

Define what is not your responsibility. Often we say yes because we think no one else will come forward. This is not always true. When you step down from being the one who always does everything, this gives others the chance to step up. It may not go exactly the way you’d have done it, but let it go. Personally I like the phrase, “Not my circus, not my monkeys” for this checkpoint.

Know what your “Definite Yes” is. There may be some situations where you know that, no matter what, you will say yes. For example, always making sure you go on your kid’s school field trips and work simply has to take a back seat on those days. It’s okay to assert your needs over someone else’s from time to time, in fact, it’s essential.

Remember, resentment arises when we don’t take responsibility for speaking up. Let us know how you have learned to speak up. Wishing you well, Gail

Written by: Gail Scott, Life Coach, Professional Speaker


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