The power of no
At a Glance: Do you find it hard to say “no”? Here’s a handy guide on four ways to refuse a request—and still feel OK.
You’ve said yes to lunch with a friend. And to helping your sister with her move. And to running an event at school. Now your calendar is crammed with so many things for others that you don’t have time to prepare for class or finish that assignment.
But it’s hard to say no. So hard, in fact, that research shows that many people are likely to say “yes,” even if it means crossing a moral line.
Putting other people’s needs ahead of your own will burn you out in the long run. Here’s how to say “no” to four common types of askers—even when it doesn’t come naturally:
“No” to the aggressive askers
Sometimes the request comes from someone who’s pushy or aggressive—even from a stranger, as in, “I need to know if you’re going to buy the car right now!”
What to do: Be polite, but firm. Or, to this type of asker, saying nothing is often the best tactic.
“No” to the implied askers
We all have them in our lives. The passive guilter who asks without really asking—maybe your sister or needy friend. “I wish I had someone to come over and help me paint” isn’t a direct question, but it’s an appeal for help.
What to do: If no actual question is asked, you needn’t volunteer, no matter how sad the story is. Remember, it is not your responsibility to solve their problems. Especially when it means putting your own needs on the backburner.
“No” to the direct ask
“Hey, I know it’s last notice, but I’m wondering if you can take on some extra shifts this weekend,” needs some kind of answer.
What to do: A simple, “I’m so sorry, but I can’t,” will do. If that’s too difficult, say you have to check with someone else (your calendar, your spouse, your kids, your boss, your pets) or that you have to think about it before you answer. Then, if you have trouble saying “no” in person, use e-mail or text to let them know you can’t commit to their request.
“No” to the “I know it’s coming” ask
Your longtime friends are coming to town and you know they’re going to try and keep you out all night, as usual.
What to do: Practice the scenario in your head, prepare to set a boundary and figure out in advance how to bow out gracefully. Or, be proactive by reaching out before the ask comes—“I’m so excited to see you when you’re in town, but I have a big paper to do that weekend and won’t be able to hang out for long.” You’ll feel a lot better (and less anxious) about setting an expectation in advance of the visit.
Learning how and when to say no is one of the most important skills you’ll ever learn. It will help you reclaim your time so you can reach your goal of getting that degree. Put yourself first—others will ultimately respect it.