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How To Say NO Without Feeling Guilty

When you can’t find the right words or are afraid to cause offence, setting boundaries can be challenging. Here are four ways to refuse a request, politely.

By D Tejaswi
29 Jul 2021

According to Columbia University psychologists Francis Flynn and Vanessa Lake’s research, many of us say “yes” to invitations, favours, and requests to avoid the difficulty and unpleasantness of saying “no.” However, saying “yes” when we really mean “no” is a recipe for stress and tiredness. It can inevitably take up valuable time from your schedule, time perhaps that you could have used to wrap up a pending task or used to unwind. “You have only so many hours in a day. Being overcommitted can put you in a crunch of time that can also induce a chronic state of stress,” says Usha Ramky, a Chennai-based life-skills coach. Commitments can often balloon up creating a constant sense of urgency leading to burnout. Over time, you realise that you should have said no more often.



But declining invitations, pushing back someone’s requests or accommodations comes with practice. “You need a more balanced approach to make the opportunities feasible and manage commitments,” adds Ramky. “It helps create a more sustainable, satisfactory life.”

When is it ok to say no

Say no when you are uncomfortable with the situation. “If the activity doesn’t engage your heart or mind, it’s a clear no,” says Ramky.
Say no when you are tired, and frustrated of saying “yes” just to please someone. Constantly putting your needs on the back burner devoids you of self-care. “So, be your advocate and say no when you find yourself overbooked!”

Confused about ‘yes’ and ‘no’? Do this.

Before you fill up your weekly calendar, do a risk analysis. Start by asking: Is this in line with my vision and values? Will I learn something? Does this strengthen my relationship? Do I have an opportunity in future? Finally, would I suffer if I said no? Once you weigh both pros and cons, if cons seem to be overriding, it’s a time for a no, says Ramky.

Before you say no

“Be sure of your call. You need to be completely convinced,” stresses Ramky. Of course, you may be worried about the consequences of saying no, especially when the request comes from an authority or senior. But remember that in those situations, you are not alone. “You can ask a mentor, friend or someone helpful to lend you frank, honest advice,” says Ramky.

Count your number of no-s

Saying no to many activities, every time, is an ill-mannered strategy, says Ramky. It represents you as someone with a displeasing attitude. Tip: Say ‘yes’ to trivial matters (low-benefit, but relationship-building activities) and you can reserve your ‘hard no’ for some activities that are a clear no for you.

How To Say No

1.Don’t sound aggressive. Be gracious, yet firm and clear. It lessens the aggravation caused by misunderstandings.
For example, consider this response. Although your proposal sounds very compelling, I’m afraid I won’t be able to participate due to projects I am already committed to. You might want to consider [names of people].

2. Don’t close the doors of communication entirely. Sometimes, you are not sure of the repercussions you might face in the future. Adopt a “not now” approach in that case, says Ramky.
For example, you can consider saying, I would be glad to take this up, but this month is not workable for me due to other commitments. Could we talk about this in the coming month, please?

3.Suggest alternatives. For some requests, you could consider negotiating for a better scope instead of overcommitting yourself. You can reasonably narrow down the commitment and offer an alternate suggestion.
Say something like, Thank you for thinking of me. But the existing commitments don’t let me attend the full-day event, but I would be happy to participate online for panel discussions. Would that work for you?

4.Ask for more details. Some demands or requests do not come with full disclosure. Ask for clarification, a sense of timeline, and follow up with a couple of questions before you reason a ‘no’. This helps take a clear, conscious call.
Say something like, I appreciate your assistance. I’d like some information about where I could stay. Please let me know if participants are given a room in a shared residence. And, if that’s the case, could you please tell me if there’s electricity, running water, and Wi-Fi?





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