Have you ever been asked by a friend to help them? Maybe to watch their kids or let them crash at your place? You don’t want to put yourself out yet you don’t know what to say.  You think it over and realize you have a few options: 1.) You could say yes because you feel bad saying no and end up feeling miserable for saying yes 2.) You could say no and maybe feel bad about saying it. 3.) You could say no and not feel bad about saying it. 

You might wonder how do you say no and not feel bad about it. To answer that, you must first understand why people feel bad saying no. Saying no may feel aggressive, like you’re flat out rejecting the person. Most people do not want to be an aggressor. There’s a negative connotation to it. As a result, people usually go the path of least potential conflict and comply with others. If they don’t they may feel like the bad guy or girl. They may feel they’re letting the person down and feel guilty. Or they may even feel they won’t be liked or will be perceived as uncaring and unhelpful.

If people do say no, they usually do it ineffectively and provide an excuse. For example, they might say, “I’d like to help but I’m really busy”. The problem with this approach is it gives the other person an opportunity to continue to ask. They feel they have an opening. “Since you’re busy this week how about next week?”

Here are 5 ways you can effectively say no:

1. Say it.

Don’t beat around the bush or offer weak excuses or hem and haw. This only provides an opening for the other person. Don’t delay or stall either. Provide a brief explanation if you feel you need to, however, don’t feel compelled. The less said the better.

2. 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 letting the person know you’ll let them know when and if you can. 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.” 

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 the relationship. When you truly understand the dynamic and your role, you won’t feel as worried about the consequences of saying “no.” You’ll realize that your relationship is solid and can withstand you saying no. 

4. Put the question back on person asking.

This is highly effective in a work situation. Let’s say a supervisor is asking you to take on several tasks – more than you can handle. You might say, “I’m happy to do X, Y and Z, however, I would need three weeks, rather than two, in order to do a good job. How would you like me to prioritize them?”

5. Be firm and selfish.

If someone can’t accept your no, then they probably aren’t a true friend or don’t respect you. Stand firm and don’t feel compelled to give in just because they’re uncomfortable.  Put your needs first. Not theirs. If you prioritize theirs over yours, you’ll find resentment will mount. 


  • Jonathan Alpert

    Psychotherapist, executive performance coach, and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. Twitter: @JonathanAlpert

    Jonathan Alpert is a psychotherapist, columnist, performance coach and author in Manhattan. As a psychotherapist, he has helped countless couples and individuals overcome a wide range of challenges and go on to achieve success. He discussed his results-oriented approach in his 2012 New York Times Opinion piece, “In Therapy Forever? Enough Already”, which continues to be debated and garner international attention. Alpert is frequently interviewed by major TV, print and digital media outlets and has appeared on the Today Show, CNN, FOX, and Good Morning America discussing current events, mental health, hard news stories, celebrities/politicians, as well as lifestyle and hot-button issues. He appears in the 2010 Oscar-winning documentary, Inside Job commenting on the financial crisis. With his unique insight into how people think and their motivations, Alpert helps clients develop and strengthen their brands. He has been a spokesperson for NutriBullet, Liberty Mutual insurance, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Jonathan’s 2012 book BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days has been translated into six languages worldwide. Alpert continues to provide advice to the masses through his Inc.com, Huffington Post, and Thrive columns. @JonathanAlpert