Matthew Cuddeback, LCSW

There are many variations and many reasons for the need to say no to people. We often feel uncomfortable saying no because of the various social pressures we feel or because we are taking their emotions on as something we need to care for as if we are responsible for them. However, it is not your responsibility to make sure everyone around you feels ok all the time, especially when it crosses boundaries or is inappropriate. It is important to recognize the act of saying no as a form of self-care. Below are a few ways to get your point across that may be helpful:

  1. Because I am working on X, I am unable to do that right now. This can be useful when being asked to take on more tasks at work. If a supervisor is asking you to take more on, it is useful to ensure they understand the reason for why you are unable to do the task. If they deem it important, they can help by doing some of the work themselves or help you to re-prioritize, but at that point it is the supervisor who is making the decision, not you, and it is up to them to manage the consequences.
  2. I am sorry you are going through this, but I can’t. When a friend or family member is asking for something you are unable or unwilling to do, it is good to offer empathy followed by a hard “no.” This type of response shows you care about the person, but it is not your responsibility to care for them at the expense of your own needs.
  3. It’s fine if you want to, but I am not going to. When someone is asking you to do something that you are uncomfortable with such as a friend asking you to break a rule or go against something you believe in it is often useful to let them know you are not judging them for their choice, but it is not something you are willing to participate in. They may, of course not like it, but as long as you are confident there is little they can offer as a rebuttal. Often times when people are attempting to use peer pressure, if they see you are not bothered or swayed by the pressure, they typically stop trying.
  4. I can’t, I have an appointment. A phrase that has been circulating the field of mental health is telling people you are unable to do something when they are asking too much of you, by saying you have an appointment. This appointment is with yourself, to focus on yourself and your needs. They may find it goofy or ridiculous, but it helps to cut the tension and diffuse their request if you are feeling uncomfortable.
  5. No. When all else fails or is not getting your point across, the classic is always good. This one won’t win you friends, but if someone is flatly wrong in asking you to do something or harassing you it matters little if their feelings are hurt. 

We are too often uncomfortable telling people no. We have been taught since a young age that we should do our best to avoid saying no to people. We worry it will stop people from liking us, get in the way of progressing in our careers, or we will develop a negative reputation. Of course, a lot of groups that are not afforded certain privileges are made to feel it is necessary to not come off rude or abrasive by saying no, but the people who are positive in your life are going to be able to cope with you telling them no. If you are good at your work, your work product and reputation will speak for themselves and people will understand that when you say no its for good reason. If someone doesn’t like you telling them no when they are harassing you, that is their problem, not yours so it is appropriate to give that negative feeling back to them. Getting more comfortable saying no, can have a dramatic effect on how balanced you feel in your life and can be an empowering tool in your self-care toolbox.