How to say No

I’m trying something a little bit different today. Are you starting to pick up on this reoccurring theme? Today is the first guest post on!

The author is Rachel Gimbert. Rachel is a freelance project manager in Berlin, Germany who publishes a weekly blog on her LinkedIn profile. Her “Wellbeing Wednesday” blog focuses on teaching people how to make time for activities that will make them healthier and happier, along with discussing other mental health issues. You can also follow her on Instagram @rachelgimbert. I recommend you follow her to get a different perspective on similar topics that are shared here on

Rachel’s post this week, “The Art of Saying ‘NO’,” pairs nicely with Wednesday’s post about having better hobbies. The phrase that really stuck out to me was, “Saying yes to something means saying no to something else.“ Every time you pick up your phone and say yes to digital distraction, you’re giving away your free time. Time that you could be spending on things that would make you far happier than scrolling on your phone. With that in mind below is Rachel‘s “Wellbeing Wednesday” from May 8, 2019.

So last week I talked about why you shouldn’t try to make other people happy, and in doing so I had a lot of conversations with people around the fact they end up doing things to please others because they find it hard to say ‘no‘. So, this week I’m providing tips on how to do just that. 

But first, people find it hard to say no for all sorts of reasons; feeling like they’re letting someone down, being seen as a failure, seen as incapable or unhelpful, or even being seen as aggressive – whatever the reason, it’s still important to acknowledge when and how to say it for your own mental wellbeing. If you say yes to everything you end up over-committed, out of time and frustrated, and you sure as hell won’t be performing at your best then. 

“Saying No has always been important,” says William Ury in his book, The Power of a Positive No, “but perhaps never as essential a skill as it is today.” (I fucking love this book by the way, if you find it hard to say no, you should definitely read it.) First, let’s think about why saying ‘no’ could be important. Here are 5 very good reasons for saying no to some things:

  1. You will not have the time you need for rest and recuperation.
  2. Other peoples’ priorities take precedence over yours.
  3. Acquaintances, people we barely know, will take our time with family and close friends.
  4. You will end up frustrated, stressed and not working at your best.
  5. You won’t be able to say yes to the things that are genuinely important to you.

The last one is the deal breaker for me. When assessing whether or not I can or want to to do something (saying ‘yes’), I think about what I will have to say ‘no’ to in exchange. So, let’s flip that negative assessment into a positive one. For every NO you say, you are in fact saying YES to something more important. Be it family, work, a hobby, whatever it is should take priority as it is more important to you – and that is OK. Reclaiming your time is crucial for your wellbeing too.

If people do say no, they usually do it in an ineffective way that comes with an excuse. For example, “I’d like to help but I’m really busy.” The issue with this approach is that it gives the other person an opportunity to continue to ask as there’s an opening, “Since you’re busy this week, how about next week?” Now you’re fucked as you need another excuse… how many will they believe?

Here are some effective ways to say ‘no’ and mean it:

1. Just say it. (the hardest but the most satisfying once you nail it) 

Don’t beat around the bush or offer excuses. This only provides an opening for the other person. Don’t delay or put it off either. Provide a brief explanation if you really feel you need to; however, don’t feel compelled – you do not owe them an explanation.

2. Understand peoples’ tactics and motives.

Many people and organisations use manipulation techniques, whether knowingly or not. They often rely on social pressure or norms to persuade you. Buck the trend and say ‘No, thank you’.

3. Set boundaries.

People sometimes have a hard time saying no because they haven’t taken the time to evaluate their relationships and understand their role within it. When you truly understand the dynamic and your role, you won’t be as concerned about the consequences of saying no. If it’s in your job remit to do the thing, you probably have to do the thing… But if it’s to go pick up some dry cleaning or do your bosses kid’s homework, you can absolutely say no – FYI, been there, said yes once and it was a slippery slope that ended with me up a 10ft ladder in my bosses house trying to fix the router after having drafted a UCAS application for their child, so just trust me on that one. 

4. Be assertive and courteous.

You might say, “I’m sorry I can’t right now but will let you know when and if I can.” This approach is polite, and puts you in a position of power by changing the dynamic. You’re taking charge. Another example, “I appreciate you asking me for help, but I’m stretched too thin right now to devote the time to be of quality help to you.”

5. Put the question back on the person asking.

This is massively effective in a work situation. Let’s say your manager is asking you to take on several tasks – more than you can handle. You could say, “I’m happy to do X, Y, and Z; however, I would need three weeks, rather than two, to do a good job. Or if we can’t extend the timeline, then I’ll have to drop A or B to focus on these. How would you like me to prioritise them?” Now it’s in their court to pick the priority and you have the approval to drop other tasks. And if it’s a colleague asking for your time, politely tell them to ask your manager first.

6. Be selfish. (my fave)

Put your needs first. Not those of the person asking you for something. If you prioritise their needs over yours, you’ll find your productivity will suffer and resentment will build up. 

7. Be strong and firm.

If someone can’t accept your no, then you know the person is probably not a true friend or doesn’t respect you. Stand firm, and don’t feel compelled to give in just because that person is uncomfortable.

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