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When (and How) To Say No

How to Say No to Unwelcome Requests

It can be difficult to say "no" when we are asked to do an inconvenient favor or take on an unpleasant task. Here is when (and how) you should establish clear boundaries when presented with an unwelcome request.


When Should You Say No?

There are a variety of reasons why you might need to say no to someone. Maybe the person is asking you to do something that conflicts with your values. Perhaps he or she is taking advantage of you or using you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or small. Usually, we can tell if we should say no to someone by paying attention to how we feel. If a request causes you to feel anxious or uncomfortable, it's probably a sign you should not say yes. That said, this isn't always easy to do, especially if you are receiving the request from a friend, loved one or employer.

How to Say No

If you have difficulty saying no when confronted with inconvenient or unreasonable requests, there are a few strategies that might make it easier. These include:

Plan ahead. It can be hard to tell someone no when we are in the moment because we tend to feel more pressure. If you struggle with face-to-face requests, ask the person to text or email their request and say you will get back to them. It's very reasonable for a busy person to want to check his or her schedule before committing to something. When the person sends you a follow-up, it will be much easier to say you will be unable to meet a request.

Don't try to explain yourself. When we use excuses to politely decline requests, we set ourselves up for awkward situations. Even a good excuse provides the other person with a clear opportunity to alter a request in a way that will render your excuse invalid. For example, if you say you can't meet up with someone for dinner because you have plans, the person can simply change the date of the request. If you say you can't make an appointment because a relative is in town, the person might say it's ok to bring that person along. If you tell your manager you can't take on a task because you have a strict deadline, he or she may tell you it's fine to complete the request when your schedule is free. No matter the excuse, people can find ways around it. Avoid bad outcomes by declining requests without offering specific reasons.

Provide alternatives. Sometimes we worry about saying no because we think it could harm an important relationship. If you feel obliged to say yes when you want to say no, try to offer an alternative that will give them what they want under circumstances that are more agreeable to you. For instance, if you would rather not join a friend at a concert, bar or party, suggest that the two of you meet for coffee or dinner instead.

Sometimes people have trouble saying no because they place too much value on the opinions of others. This can cause them to become perpetual people-pleasers who always say yes because they are worried about disappointing others or losing important relationships. If you feel like you struggle with these issues, consider talking to a therapist to uncover the root cause of your struggles and develop healthier ways of coping with difficult interactions.

Our caring therapists can help you overcome life's greatest challenges. Contact us today!