How to say ‘No.’

Following on from my post on how hard it is to say ‘No,’ a lot of people have contacted me asking; ‘how exactly do I do that?’
Being able to speak your truth is life changing. So let me share with you exactly how.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


‘No’ is such a little word with powerful implications. Before I get into how to say ‘No.’ I need you to understand why we are so afraid of actually using this small but powerful word.

The biggest reason: we are scared about what other people will think about us.

We are also scared of:
Not being liked
Disappointing someone
Of being wrong
Making a mistake
Of being rejected
Potential conflict
Feeling uncomfortable or others feeling uncomfortable
Hurting someone’s feelings
Causing upset

The biggest reason we are scared of saying ‘no,’ is we misguidedly believe that we are responsible for how other people feel.

So instead of saying ‘no’ when we need to, we become liars.

You probably consider yourself to be a ‘good’ person, an honest person even, so it may come as a shock to you, that when you say yes and don’t actually mean it, you are actually a liar.

Image courtesy of africa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of africa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Oh yes, you’re also a thief.

A liar and a thief.

That’s probably a shock to you right? You’ve probably never ‘stolen’ anything in your life and are siting here reading this blog feeling very outraged at the mere suggestion.
Well here’s the thing; if you lie and say yes, when you mean no, you could very well be stealing someone’s learning and growth opportunity from them.

Here’s why:

Let’s say I need to move house this weekend and I’m a pretty disorganized person. My life is always a bit crazy and I’m pretty good in coercing people into doing what I want them to do.
It’s always worked for me, so why change?
I come to you with a look of tragedy on my face, and my sob story of how I desperately need help moving this weekend.
You look at me and see my furrowed brow, hear my plaintiff cries that signal my distress and inside you’re panicking.
Because the last thing you ever want to do is hurt someone’s feelings.
But you have plans this weekend and you absolutely cannot help me.
A feeling of dread washes over you.

The conversation goes like this:
“*Insert your name here* I really, really need your help. Everyone’s let me down; I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have to move but I have no one to help me. Please, please can you spare some time to just give me a hand?”

And you reply: “Sure, absolutely. Of course I can help, don’t worry.”
And your internal voice is going: “Noooooooo! Crap, why did you ever agree to that?”

All week, every time you think of the weekend, you get that sinking feeling in your stomach. You run all these scenarios in your head, maybe if I get there really early, maybe I can help for a bit then sneak off, maybe I can pretend car broke down…
The more you think about it the worse you feel. Then you start getting p***ed off. How come you always get landed with this stuff?
How come you are always the person helping others out?
Then Friday night comes around and the absolute last thing you want to do is help this person move at the weekend. You are resentful, mad and full of self-pity.

So you text them: ‘I’m so sorry. I’m sick, been in bed all day. No way I can help tomorrow. So sorry to let you down.”

And relief floods your body, because you have found a way of getting out of doing something you really never wanted to do in the first place.
However there is a sting, because you’ve lied.
You are a liar.
But you justify it, rationalize it, it’s only a white lie, it’s not a big one. Besides you had to lie, you were forced to. Then you feel a little better.

Sound familiar?

Ever done anything like that?

I used to do that stuff all the time. I was always agreeing to do stuff with people but inside I was freaking out.
My insides and my outsides did not match.

And here’s the thing. The person who needed to move, are they in a quandary? Sure they are.
They have been let down at the last minute. They have a mess to figure out.
But what if you and everyone else they had asked that week had been honest. What if you had said ‘No, I’m sorry, I have plans that I can’t change.’
Would that person have walked away upset?
Sure they would.
But then maybe, just maybe they would have started thinking; ‘this always happens to me, I always leave everything to the last minute. I’m always having to run around and sell my sob story to try and get people to do what I need them to. I’m sick of this, I need to get my act together. I need to organize and plan my life better.’

Bingo. Right there a learning and growth opportunity has arisen.

Maybe they needed this uncomfortable situation in order to learn from it. It is actually pain and un-comfortability that motivates us to change. If you try and save me from those feelings, then you also steal from me the things that motivate me to change.
Our greatest learning and growth opportunities often come from the messes we make in our lives.

Saying ‘no’ takes practice. It feels scary and hard to start with.

If you had said ‘no’ right of the bat to your friend, would they have walked away upset? Yes probably.
Now pay very close attention, because the next bit is important. Did you cause that upset?
No you didn’t.
If you politely and kindly said ‘no.’ How the other person feels about that is neither your business nor responsibility.
You are not responsible for how other people feel.
You are only responsible for how you feel.

Now, if you had said to your friend, ‘get lost you creep, I wouldn’t help you if you were the last person on earth.’
Would you have had a part in upsetting them?
Absolutely. You were mean and rude, that tends to upset people.

But do you see the difference?

People may be disappointed, hurt, angry or upset if you say no to what they ask. But as long as you say it politely, there isn’t anything you can do about that.
Manipulative people in particular, will communicate their disappointed feelings to you, because these are the tools they use to get people to do what they want.

Think about that.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


It’s because of our fear of how other people are going to feel, and our faulty belief that we are responsible for these feelings, that gets us into situations we don’t want to be in.
There are only so many things we can agree to do; there are only so many hours in the day.
We need to say no sometimes to bring balance into our lives.
But more importantly other people need to experience what it’s like to have a ‘no’ sometimes. Don’t steal that learning opportunity from them.

There is a wonderful phrase (I think its’ from Al-anon) that sums this all up beautifully:

‘Say what you mean, mean what you say and don’t say it mean.’

Trust me, applying that simple rule to your life will transform it.
Because when you say yes. You will mean it.

People know I’m going to show up and do stuff, they know my ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ means ‘no’.

It can feel uncomfortable practicing this at first. Naturally, we don’t want other people to be upset or disappointed, as compassionate human beings we would like to avoid that if we can. So we may feel a brief ‘after-burn’ when we see that someone else is disappointed.
But we must be clear; we aren’t responsible for other people’s feelings. It is not our job to rescue others from uncomfortable emotions just because we can’t bear to witness it. We can’t please everyone, it’s impossible.

We cause more upset when we say yes and don’t mean it, then later on have to wiggle our way out of what we agreed to do. This causes frustration and consternation. We are unreliable, people can’t trust us, they don’t know when we are going to let them down. Then our behavior causes upset.

I promise you this gets easier and easier.
There are lots of things I can say yes to. I don’t over-schedule myself anymore. I will totally help you move if I’m able to. And if I can’t, I’ll let you know right away so you can plan accordingly.
The most important thing now is how I now feel about myself. I have no control over others; I can’t move mountains just because I think it will make you feel better. I am no longer chained by the good or bad opinion of others, how I feel about myself is the most important thing.

So I’d love to know how this goes for you, what are your experiences of saying yes when you didn’t want to? What was it like saying no?

3 thoughts on “How to say ‘No.’

  1. Colin

    Veronica I think that could have been condensed to be honest.a fundamental duty to yourself and others.be honest.

  2. Mark Goodson

    This is wonderful. I don’t recall every saying no in active alcoholism. It lead to some strange circumstances. Saying no was such a BIG DEAL in early recovery. I had fun blogging about it in the story called “a first time for everything” on the blog. Since then, I’ve experienced I no longer ‘recoil like a hot flame’ but am able to say it casually, without venturing into the depths of my story. I also found comfort knowing that people aren’t obsessing over me the way I obsess over myself. Saying no is rarely a big deal to them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *