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Helpful strategies and tips on how to say ‘no’

This article is based on the free eBook “Creating Authentic Assertion – Part III”

Many people find it difficult to say ‘no’. Would you like to improve your ability to say ‘no’?  In this article you find expert tips on how to become a master at saying ‘no’. Say ‘yes’ to this article!


Understanding our ‘no’s

As we found out in the second eBook, Mastering the Power of Assertive Dialogue, we learn our beliefs and conditioning, primarily through our childhood experiences and influences. Once we have identified our irrational beliefs, we are then free to re-programme our mind with healthier, more assertive beliefs through working our mental muscle.

To help us along the way, here are some constructive beliefs to consider:

  • I have the right to voice my opinion even if it differs to others.
  • Differing opinions simply create discussion.
  • In honouring myself first, others get a better result from me in the end.
  • A ‘no’ is not a rejection.
  • Saying ‘no’ is not about refusing the person; it is about refusing the situation.


Strategies for making ‘no’ easier

From an assertiveness view-point, I prefer to move away from the notion of simply saying ‘no’, which reduces the discomfort and removes the emotional attachment that accompanies it. Consider this response to a request for our time by someone from another team member:

“I’m busy right now, although I will be free in about half-an-hour, when I’d be happy to help you.  How does that sound?”

In this example, there is no sign of the N word! This phrase does four things:

  1. It makes a clear statement that honours us.
  2. It demonstrates clear boundaries.
  3. It shows a willingness to help.
  4. It engages the other party in a discussion through the open question.

If we take this scenario forward and assume that the requestor does not like the sound of our proposal, here is how we might tackle their retort:

“No that’s unacceptable, I need it done now.”

“I’m sorry that we can’t make that work. As I said, I will be free and happy to help in 30 minutes.”

Perhaps you could speak to one of my colleagues and ask for their help on this occasion.

What this approach does is show that we are standing up for our position and honouring it, remaining firm and offering alternatives, without being difficult, awkward or aggressive.


Six ways to say ‘no’

In addition to these real-life examples, here are a further six techniques for refusing a request without feeling guilty. They come from UK psychologist Trevor Powell.

1. The direct ‘no”

If we are asked to do a task we do not want to, or cannot do, just say ‘no’. Although this might sound simple, with the irrational beliefs I listed earlier, it may feel a hard option.  The aim is saying ‘no’ without feeling that we must apologise, although as we start out on this saying ‘no’ journey, it may feel less aggressive to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”  Over time though, I suggest that we practise without the apology, as it is not always necessary.

2. The reflecting ‘no’

This involves acknowledging the content and sentiments of the request, then adding our assertive refusal at the end. For example, “I know you need me to deliver that report today, although tomorrow is looking more likely.” This technique shows an emotionally intelligent quality to our interaction.

3. The reasoned ‘no’

Give a very brief and genuine reason why we are saying ‘no’; “I can’t have lunch with you because I have a report that needs to be finished by tomorrow”.

4. The rain-check ‘no’

This is my favourite type of ‘no’ because inadvertently it is a ‘yes’. Psychologically the person requesting still gets what they need, although in a different timescale. It is a way of saying ‘no’ to the request at the present moment and gives us scope for saying ‘yes’ in the future. For example, “I can’t have lunch with you today, although I could make it sometime next week.”

5. The enquiring ‘no’

As with the rain-check ‘no’, this is not a definite ‘no’.  It is a way of opening up the request to see if there is an alternative. For example, “I am involved in doing an important job this afternoon. Is there anyone else in my team who could help you?”

6. The broken record ‘no’

We can use this in a wide range of situations. We just repeat the simple statement of refusal. No explanation, just repeat it. It is particularly good for persistent requests. “I can’t do it right now; I can definitely do it tomorrow.”  “As I said, I can’t do it now.” We notice how the broken record technique increases up the spectrum scale that we discussed earlier. We must be mindful of the tone of voice and body language we use to accompany this phrase, as it would be easy for this to scale up from a five to an eight if we became frustrated.

7. Saying ‘no’ action points

If saying ‘no’ is on your list, then identify which pointers resonate most with you from the past couple of pages? Which approaches feel most comfortable for you? Also, be mindful of the reasons behind your compliance as you develop this skill, as it will make it much easier.


If you are looking for further advice on how to be more assertive, then you should read the free eBook “Creating Authentic Assertion – Part III” written by Karen Davies.