One of the tips I have mentioned in a number of my blogs is saying no. However, many of us find it hard to say no. For some of us ‘no’ doesn’t even seem to be in our vocabulary. You may feel racked with guilt if you say no. You might worry about what other people will think or about letting them down. If this sounds familiar, this blog will give you some tips on how to say no effectively.

Why say no?

We all have times when we are dealing with something, whether it be burnout or grief, that takes a lot of our energy. If we always say yes to others, we are effectively saying no to putting time and energy into ourselves. Therefore, being able to say no is a helpful and healthy skill to have. It can often take dealing with something difficult to feel able to say no to others and prioritise yourself. However, no doesn’t have to be reserved for difficult times. Being able to say no means being able to choose what we give our time and energy to.

'Just say no' carved into a tree

Why is it hard to say no?

Saying yes is a habit for many of us. Just like any habit, it can be hard to break. It can help to consider your beliefs about saying no. You may have learnt it is rude, or you may feel obligations such as you should always yes to family. Considering what your beliefs around saying no are can help you to examine if these beliefs still serve you.

You may be worried about the consequences of saying no. For example, you may feel people won’t value or like you if you say no. However, it is likely that the people in your life value you for who you are, not what you do for them. There may well be some pushback and discomfort initially, but over time most people will get use to your new boundaries and lose the expectation that you will say yes to everything.

How to say no effectively

1. Keep it simple

Whilst just shouting ‘no’ and running away may not be the best way to turn down a request; you also don’t need an elaborate explanation or excuse. You are entitled to say no to requests and invitations. There may be times when a brief explanation is helpful, but this could just be saying I don’t have time or capacity for that right now. A barrier to saying no can be feeling it is impolite, but you can be polite and thank the person for the opportunity or invitation and still turn it down. An advantage of having a simple one sentence way to turn things down is that if the person is persistent, you can simply repeat your original refusal.

2. Practice

Saying no can feel very alien. It can help to work out what you want to say and practice saying it out loud to yourself. There are some ideas on different ways to say no here. Once you know what you might say, try committing to saying no to one thing in the next week. There are also going to be things that are easier and harder to say no to. It can help to practice saying no in situations where you don’t have an emotional investment or are not likely to see that person again. For example, this might be saying no to looking at the dessert menu after a meal. 

3. Make no your default

You may have worked out in theory how to say no but acting on that can be more difficult. One thing that can help is changing your mindset. Try telling yourself for a week that your default answer to everything will be no. This doesn’t mean you actually have to say no to everything, but that no is your starting point. So when you get a request, stop and think about it. If your default answer is no, then what are the reasons to say yes? What would you get from saying yes? What would be the consequences or accepting or turning it down? If it is something that you really want to do or will benefit you then you may decide to go ahead and say yes. 


Many of us struggle to say no. However, no-one can do everything and saying no to others enables us to say yes to ourselves. Considering why we believe we shouldn’t say no and changing our default to no can help, as can practising how to say no simply. If you would like to find out more about how counselling can help, please get in touch:

Photo by Andy T