As a person who’s been a people-pleaser all my life, saying no was a very difficult practise to adopt.

I still find it hard to say no to the people I love and cherish. And it takes quite a bit of grit to do so.

But saying no has helped me become happier and focus my time on tasks that actually enable me to become a better person and feel better too.

I’ll try to cover multiple scenarios on how you can say no politely.

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Why is it difficult to say no?

Before I get into the how, I want to cover the why.

It is easier to solve a problem when you understand the root cause of it.

1. We feel they might hate us

People who aim to please are often insecure about themselves.

We find it hard to say no because we feel the other person may get offended and end up not talking to us ever again or we’re afraid we might lose that relationship with the person.

The thought of not agreeing to another person or just standing your ground and being honest can seem daunting at first.

But saying yes to everything (even when you don’t want to) will end up draining you and burning you out.

2. It’s become a habit to say yes

People who say yes to everyone all their lives have made it a habit. They are so used to saying yes, that no other option seems to exist.

It can be very difficult to suddenly start saying no, but once you start using that word and truly conveying how you feel, it will get easier with time and you will start to feel the weight of the world get lighter.

Why you need to say no

If you say yes to every party, every mundane task or responsibility you don’t want to do, every favour someone genuinely asks you, your life will be filled with tasks that do not make you happy.

It’s as simple as that.

Life is very short.

And you cannot spend it pleasing other people or walking on egg-shells.

This is something that you must overcome in order to truly be happy.

Even if you do end up saying yes to everyone and everything, there will come a point in time when you fail to meet their expectations, and it will crush you.

Either way, its not healthy.

Saying yes to something that bothers you or doesn’t sit right with you may feel okay in the beginning because you’re pleasing the person, but eventually, it will eat you up and make you feel uncomfortable because the task makes you unhappy or uneasy.

Let’s get one thing clear.

Saying no does not make you selfish

When you say no to something, you are saying yes to the things that you consider more important. This is a productivity hack I learned very late in life.

Think about it like this. If you worked really hard all week and just want to relax on a Friday night but a friend asks you out to a party, it’s okay to say no.

You aren’t rejecting your friend or saying that they are less important to you. You are simply choosing to dedicate a few hours to your wellbeing so that you can relax and recover from the week’s grind.

Likewise, if you say no to a prospective client because their work does not interest you or fit in your portfolio, you are not saying no because you don’t want to work with the person.

You simply want to focus on work that excites you or work you can do justice on.

Here’s what you need to understand:

  • It’s okay to decline invitations to events you don’t want to attend.
  • It’s okay to not take on additional tasks so that you can focus on what is on your plate at the moment.
  • It’s completely okay to say no to a friend. True friends understand that life gets in the way and will not desert you.
  • You have the right to put yourself first. You are not selfish for doing so.

How do you say no in a nice way?

1. Start by saying thank you

Whether you like the question or invitation, always say thank you. It is polite and a really good way to start your response.

Here’s what I mean:

  • Thank you so much for inviting to the party, but…
  • Thank you for your email and thinking of me, but…
  • Thank you for this wonderful opportunity, however…
  • Thank you for asking, but…

2. Say no

Now that you’ve said thank you, it’s time to bite the bullet and say no.

  • But I’ll have to refuse
  • But I can’t make it
  • But I can’t work on this right now
  • But I cannot do this

3. Give a reason

It’s always best, to be honest, but sometimes the truth might be a little too snarky or hurtful. In this case, it’s okay to be a little vague.

For instance, if you don’t want to work with a client because she was difficult to work with last time, you can say,

“Thank you so much for your proposal, but I’m sorry I cannot take this project on as it is not the right fit for me right now.”

4. Be firm

If a friend is asking you out for coffee and you don’t want to go, keep it short and simple.

“Thank you, but I can’t make it today.”

Your friend might prod to know why, but keep it simple and be firm. It’s okay to push it off to a later date, so that they understand that now is not a good time.

“I have other plans, I’m sorry.”

If you really want to catch up for coffee or want to compromise just a little bit, you can offer an alternative.

“I have other plans tonight, how about next Saturday?”

Remember, you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

A true friend will always understand and not take it personally.

How do you say no professionally?

As an Illustrator and Blogger, I’ve had multiple requests from companies/acquaintances that I just have no interest in working with now or in the near future.

The most common reasons for this are:

  1. Their work does not complement mine in any way. So it won’t be useful to me or my audience.
  2. I have no interest in working with them or doing a collaboration. I feel pursuing it will drain me and take away my time from much more important tasks that I love doing.
  3. I find them spammy.

If the person reaching out to me is someone I know or a person who’s just beginning their business, I usually give an explanation.

“Hello name,

Thank you so much for reaching out to me. I’m truly honoured that you want to work together on this project.

But at the moment, it isn’t the right fit with my niche and audience. So, I’m sorry, but I’ll have to decline.

However, I wish you all the best with your future endeavours.

Warm regards,

Your name”

Remember to keep it short and polite. You can substitute the reason you don’t want to work with them with alternate reasons.

If you get an email from a company that’s sending multiple machine-generated emails, then there is no need to reply at all because most of the time, its spam.

How to say no at work?

If you are working in an office, and your plate is already full or you just don’t have the mental space to take on another task, it is important to say no.

It can be tricky to say no to your boss or your colleague but there is a way to do that without sounding aggressive.

The idea you want to communicate is that you are already busy working on a task that needs to be completed. And taking on the new task will leave you behind on the other.

Here’s an email that you can use:

Hey name,

Thank you for bringing this up. But I’m unable to work on this at the moment because I’m already working on [name of current task]. It has to be finished this week because [reason why it’s important]

Warm regards,

[your name]

Once you explain your priorities to your boss/colleague, they will understand how hard you’re working and will appreciate your honesty.

Final thoughts

Saying no to something you don’t want to do or something that makes you uncomfortable means saying yes to something that makes you happy.

Incorporating this particular habit into your life will make you feel freer and give your life so much meaning.

Angela is a 29 year old Illustrator and Blogger living with her 2 adorable labradors in Bangalore, India. When she's not writing her heart out or drawing, you'll find her sipping chai and reading non-fiction books.

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