I used to be a huge people-pleaser.
Just the thought of saying “no” had me sweating with anxiety because every time I refused to do someone a favor, I felt like I’d somehow failed to live up to their expectations.
The idea that I shouldn’t care about their expectations to begin didn’t really occur to me. It was as if in every single area of life, I needed to excel – including positive relationships with acquaintances and co-workers whose opinions of me shouldn’t have been as important as I made them out to be.
Luckily, this phase didn’t last forever. Slowly but surely, I let go of my people-pleasing tendencies and emerged stronger than ever before.
And the key was to recognize that saying “no” is nothing to feel guilty about.
Of course, it’s not always as easy as all that, so if you’re looking for a detailed manual that recounts the 8 situations where it’s completely okay to say “no”… here it comes!
1) When you’re asked for a favor that would take a toll on your well-being
There’s a difference between a slight inconvenience and something that would really disrupt your day and possibly contribute to a decline in your well-being.
Unfortunately, favors can exist on both sides of the spectrum.
If a friend asks me to grab them a yogurt while I’m in the supermarket, it’s no big deal.
But if a boss asks me to come to work on my day off for the fourth time this month (which happened to me all the time when I worked in hospitality), saying “no” is an absolutely valid thing to do.
Still, I found it incredibly hard, and it took me ages to learn to say “no” without feeling guilty.
But I got there. And part of the reason why is that I recognized my part-time job did not define me – it was only a fraction of my life, and what’s more, I had much more important priorities (such as my well-being and my friends).
So, if someone asks you for a favor, remember that you are not required to oblige. You can refuse, and whatever their reaction may be, that decision is completely okay.
2) When someone tries to push your boundaries
Back when I was a waitress, saying “no” to my managers was sometimes not enough. When they were very understaffed, they would push.
“Are you sure? You can’t come even for three hours? We’re so understaffed… not even two hours?”
Never mind it took me half an hour just to get there, so coming there on my day off would effectively kill my whole afternoon.
If someone pushes our boundaries, especially if they’re essentially guilt-tripping us, our reaction may be to yield and say, “Fine.” If nothing else, at least it shuts them up.
But I’d argue against that. People who disrespect your time to such a large degree that they keep pushing you after you’ve said “no” will simply learn that all you need is a bit of a push before you consent, and they’ll employ that technique in the future.
The more times you say “yes” even though you don’t want to, the more likely your boundaries are to slip over time.
3) When you’re invited to a social event you don’t want to attend
Look, if it’s your sister’s wedding day, you should probably go even if you’re in a bad mood.
But if a co-worker asks you if you can make it to their networking event while all you want to do is read a book in bed, there’s no reason you should say “yes”.
If you don’t want to go, don’t go. You may feel like reading a book is less valid than an event that could potentially further your career, but really, it’s all about balance – if networking isn’t your thing and you’re dying to see how your book turns out, your priorities are pretty clear.
And at the end of the day, other people don’t have to agree with what you choose to do with your evenings. All that matters is that you feel fulfilled and happy.
4) When you’re given an opportunity you don’t wish to take
It’s kind of the expectation that we should jump on every good opportunity coming into our lives, right?
But the truth is that a promotion may not always be what you want right now. A big work opportunity that forces you to move away from your family might not be the best choice, no matter how big the salary is.
Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t always say “yes” to great opportunities. It all depends on your circumstances. A better salary doesn’t equal more happiness, after all.
Do what feels right at this time in your life, not what’s expected of you.
5) When you need some space during a disagreement
I used to be the kind of person who needed to solve everything right here, right now.
When someone wanted to take space during an argument, I would feel rejected and wounded, simmering in my anger for hours.
But then I realized that taking some space during a disagreement was actually a very effective tool to solve the issue in a peaceful manner.
The moment both parties take a step back from the situation at hand, they have a chance to let their anger die down and reflect on their feelings. Once they come back together, their heads are clearer and they can arrive at a solution more effectively.
Taking some space to yourself is therefore very important, and if someone pushes you to deal with a problem in the heat of the moment, remember that you have every right to take a time-out for a bit.
6) When you don’t reciprocate someone’s romantic feelings
We’ve all grown so used to ghosting people that we no longer recognize just how hurtful it can be.
“But what do I do if someone fancies me and I don’t like them back?” you might be asking.
The answer is simple. Tell them.
If someone asks you out on a second date, it is absolutely okay for you to say “no” and explain that you’re not feeling it on a romantic or sexual level. Every person I’ve told this to has always been more than respectful – if I’m not feeling it, then that’s nothing personal.
The people-pleaser in you might want to give it another chance although you know deep down that there’s no sexual chemistry. The part of you that hates conflict may opt for ghosting because it feels like less of a rejection and more of a disappearance.
But an honest rejection is always better than vanishing without any reason whatsoever. “No” is always better than crickets.
7) When you’re being taken for granted
I used to have a friend who would hang out with me almost every day, only for her to start taking our friendship for granted as time went on – she would cancel our dinners at the last minute, reach out only when it suited her, leave me on “read” more times than I could count, and generally act like a rubbish friend.
So I finally decided to say “no” to this situation. I told her I wasn’t going to make plans with her unless she was sure she could make it because the constant canceling was disrespectful to my time and energy.
And guess what?
Our friendship fizzled out. The moment I no longer complied with her treatment of me, she decided to leave the situation altogether.
Of course, I was very sad, but I know that it’s for the best – I now have more time for friends who truly cherish what we have.
8) When your values are compromised
Your values make you who you are. Don’t let anyone push you to do things you don’t want to do, especially if that action is at odds with your identity.
A previous boss of mine would always get us a cup of coffee when we were on our way to clean a property. One time, she accidentally got me coffee with milk, and when I politely said I couldn’t drink it because I was vegan (which she knew), she got furious with me.
To her, it was just one coffee. To me, it was so much more than that, so I said “no” and let another coworker of mine have two coffees.
Even when my boss spent the next hour acting all grumpy, I didn’t regret having refused the coffee because I knew that accepting it would clash with my inherent values and life philosophy.
It’s not always easy to act in line with your principles and beliefs, but the results are worth it: your integrity remains intact, your conscience clear.
And if it makes someone mad from time to time… so be it.
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