It’s easy to say “yes” to things – may that be a social commitment, a task at work, or perhaps buying your little one that toy they’ve been begging for.
But then it might be too late when you realize that you’ve been saying “yes” so much that it’s been pushing your bandwidth to the edge.
We’re not often taught about the importance of saying “no” – a two-letter word that has the power to communicate to others that you value yourself, your time, and your capacity.
In this article, we’ll explore the habits of individuals adept at saying “no,” and how you can reclaim your power, one “no” at a time.
1) They Mentally Frame “No” as a Positive Action
Many of us are conditioned to perceive “no” as a negative response, equating it with rejection, refusal, or denial.
But to be blunt with you, saying “no” is a form of self-care. It’s personal boundary-setting. It means acknowledging the inherent opportunity costs that come with each decision.
If you find it difficult to view “no” as a positive response, think of it this way: Every time you say “yes” to one thing, you’re inevitably saying “no” to something else.
In other words, I suggest that you visualize the outcomes of saying “yes,” and use that as motivation to say “no.”
2) They Ask for Time to Think About Requests, Instead of Giving an Instant “Yes”
Another characteristic of people who are good at saying “no” is their habit of asking for time to consider requests instead of impulsively agreeing to them.
When they rush into making a final decision, they may overlook crucial factors such as existing obligations or the complexity of the task.
Back in college, I used to have a hard time balancing everything on my plate. In the trifecta of sleep-social life-work, I always had to sacrifice something – and unfortunately, a lot of the time, it was sleep.
That lifestyle took a toll on my body. When I finally started putting more thought about my capacity to handle every commitment, request, and deadline, I was able to better manage my time and responsibilities.
3) They Often Use “I” Statements When Declining
As the adage goes, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”
Saying “no” can be difficult, especially if you think you’ll end up burning bridges or appear uncooperative.
I recommend that you start using “I” statements to assert your needs, as well as to avoid the interpretation of seeming dismissive or negative.
This conversation tool can be useful in various endeavors, including business negotiation and psychology, to articulate your needs and boundaries.
It humanizes the interaction – meaning the other party is reminded that their request has implications for another human being, fostering empathy and mutual respect.
For example, instead of saying, “You’re asking too much of me,” you can say, “I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work this would add to my current workload.”
The former statement could be perceived as an accusation, while the latter focuses on your personal experience.
4) They Work on Their Negotiation Skills
Master negotiators have got a knack for saying “no” in a way that doesn’t ruffle any feathers. And, guess what? You can be good at this, too!
Here’s a trick: instead of laying down your final word straightaway, kick off with a point that you can chat about. Think of it like tossing a ball into a game – it starts the play, gets everyone involved, and doesn’t shut down the game right at the start.
Let’s imagine you’re negotiating the price of a used car. You’ve done your homework and you know the market value is $5000. However, the seller is asking for $6000.
Instead of starting with, “Your price is too high, I’ll only pay $5000,” which comes across as a final ultimatum, you could use the start-to-finish approach. Say something like, “I’ve been looking around and I’ve seen similar cars going for around $5000. Can we talk about the price?”
This way, you’ve opened up a discussion about the price, not just slammed down your final offer.
The seller is more likely to feel like they’re part of a conversation rather than being strong-armed into a decision.
Plus, it keeps the door open for you to say “no” to paying $6000, while also showing that you’re open to finding a price that works for both of you.
Remember, the aim is to keep things friendly and open. That way, both sides are more likely to leave the negotiation feeling satisfied. And that’s when you know you’ve nailed the art of saying “no” with grace and strategy.
5) They Provide Alternatives
If you can’t directly fulfill the request, you might want to contribute to other possible solutions in consideration for the other person’s needs.
This is a proactive approach to maintain engagement and goodwill. Rather than being seen as someone who merely rejects requests, you can prove that you’re an asset in professional settings where problem-solving is a highly valued skill.
Given the nature of freelance work, I’ve often found myself inundated with more tasks than I could handle, causing me to reject clients that I’ve been dreaming to work with for years.
So one thing I’ve started doing for my current clientele is suggesting alternative solutions, timelines, and collaborators.
This way, I’m able to respect their needs and avoid overextending myself.
6) They Don’t Apologize Unnecessarily
There’s a difference between showing empathy and needlessly apologizing.
A common misconception that a lot of adults have is that saying “no” requires an apology, but this isn’t always the case.
For example, when you say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you with that project,” implies you did something wrong.
On the contrary, “Unfortunately, I can’t assist with that project,” acknowledges the situation without suggesting guilt or wrongdoing.
7) They Communicate Their Priorities to Others
Giving context to your decisions helps others understand the logic and reasoning behind your “no.”
When you lay out your clearly defined priorities, the other party will be able to see where their request falls within these, making it more likely that they will respect your decision.
Communicating your priorities also helps set expectations.
When people know what matters most to you, whether in a personal or professional sense, they can align their requests accordingly or anticipate potential obstacles.
So this goes out to everyone trying to settle for a below-minimum-wage salary for the sake of landing a job, remember this: You deserve to be compensated fairly for your work.
It’s okay, and even necessary, to stand up for your worth.
Try telling your potential employer something along the lines of “I appreciate the opportunity, but I believe the compensation doesn’t reflect the value I bring to the role.”
8) They Delegate Tasks
You cannot – and should not – do everything yourself.
If ever you’re managing a team at work (or even if you’re just a team member), successful delegation entails trust in your co-workers’ capabilities.
By cascading tasks to them, you’re also showing confidence in their abilities, fostering a sense of ownership and engagement within the workplace.
But please don’t make the same mistake as I did back when I was a marketing manager at a tech start-up.
I thought I was offloading tasks effectively; however, come performance review, I was told that I didn’t give proper feedback to my team.
As a result, my colleagues did not feel valued – and that’s something I never want anyone to feel because of me.
9) They Don’t Invest Time and Effort in One-Way Relationships
People who are comfortable with saying “no” have been through their unfair share of one-sided friendships.
Efforts weren’t reciprocated. There wasn’t an equal emotional investment from either side. They always give, but never receive.
Your relationships shouldn’t always be transactional. There should be a healthy balance of give and take.
When it comes to healthy relationships, both parties should invest, support, and appreciate each other.
If you find yourself navigating a one-way street, it might be high-time to say “no” and redirect your energy towards other relationships or activities that fulfill you.
10) They Maintain Personal and Professional Boundaries
Establishing clear boundaries requires self-awareness.
You need to know your limits, needs, and preferences. What are you comfortable with? What crosses the line? When do you feel uncomfortable?
To anyone who’s ever been a corporate slave, this story might strike a chord with you: You’ve clocked out, you’ve made it to your couch, and suddenly you’re being notified with work emails that have the subject “URGENT”.
There’s a clear line between your personal and professional life.
That said, when you protect your personal time, I kid you not, you’ll be able to see significant improvements in your work-life balance and overall wellbeing.
11) They’re Not Afraid to Ask for Support From Family and Friends
In case you didn’t read it right the first time, you cannot – and should not – handle everything all by yourself.
Ask for help when you need it.
After all, asking for support isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s an acknowledgement of humanity.
Everyone needs a shoulder to lean on sometimes, and by asking for it, you’re able to give others the opportunity to be there for you.
12) They’re Mindful of Their Energy Levels and Regularly Check In With Themselves
Willpower is a muscle. The more you use it to say “no” in different scenarios, you’re gradually building up its strength.
At the same time, you also need to be mindful of your energy levels during the day, so that during those low moments, you can remind yourself about the importance of self-care and rest, allowing your willpower muscle to recover and be exercised when needed again.
As a mother of two beautiful daughters, I’ve also had to set boundaries for them – like limiting their screen time or making sure they do their homework – to reinforce the idea that they can’t have everything they want in life.
Sometimes I’m met with some resistance and a few tantrums here and there.
So there are moments when I’m tempted to say “yes” just for some peace, but I know that giving in does not serve me or my daughters in the long run.
13) They Turn Off Their Notifications During Their Downtime
Turning off your notifications during your downtime sends a crystal clear signal to others (and to yourself) about your boundaries.
It communicates that your time is valuable. You’re not available around the clock and that you’re not always on-call.
Having uninterrupted downtime can improve your mental health, sleep quality, and overall well being. It’s hard to relax or focus when your phone is constantly buzzing and alerting you to notifications.
When you have a specific time slot for checking messages or emails, you’re doing yourself a favor by controlling your communication, rather than being controlled by it.
14) They Make Sure That Their Actions Align With Their Words
Integrity. It sounds like a buzzword, but it’s actually a defining trait of people who are good at saying “no.”
Integrity involves consistency between words and action, standing firm in your decisions even in the face of pressure or temptation.
Keep in mind that every “no” is a “yes” to something else – be it your values, your priorities, or your deep respect for yourself and for others.