How to Assert Yourself by Saying No

How to Assert Yourself by Saying No

Many of us have difficulty saying “no” to requests that others make, whether it’s our friends, bosses or co-workers, or family. Most people want to please others to some extent, and the thought of turning down a request is not appealing. We all want to feel helpful and contribute where we can. Unfortunately, though, stretching oneself too thin by always saying yes can lead to feelings of burnout and resentment later on. In fact, saying no when you want to will allow you to be more present and effective at the tasks you do undertake, and will allow you to really focus in that moment. It also sends an implicit message to yourself about the value of your time.

Saying no isn’t always easy, and your approach will vary depending on the situation: who you are responding to, what they are asking for, and why you’re saying no. Chances are, when you’re being asked for something, you won’t necessarily be prepared with an immediate response. Remember that it’s always OK to say something like “Let me think about it” or “I’ll have to check my calendar” to simply buy yourself time to reflect on whether you want to say yes or no. That additional time will allow you to think about your boundaries, determine whether the request is something that you want or are comfortable with, and craft a solid response.

Once you’ve decided that you’re going to decline the request, you need to actually say no. Although it may seem easier, avoiding the situation by simply not giving an answer will generally have a negative result. Bear in mind that the best approach to doing this will vary depending on the specific circumstances, but a generally good recommendation is to be kind but firm. (That is, of course, if you aren’t firm in your “no”.) If you say something like “I dunno, maybe I could,” you should expect to hear from that person fairly soon, asking you to reconsider. It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to give excuses or explanations. The recipient of the “no” might be inclined to try to help you problem solve so that you can change your mind. A simple “I’m sorry, I can’t help you right now” or “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it” is fine. If you do feel the need to explain, it’s best to keep your reasons brief. If you feel so inclined, you could offer an alternative option.

Sometimes people will continue to ask you the same questions over and over. When this happens, rather than get irritated, acknowledge their position and emotions, but stand firm, e.g. “I understand that having me participate in your committee is important to you, but I’m not able to do it, as I’ve already told you. Please stop asking me.”

Individuals who experience anxiety in social situations may have particular difficulty with saying no and setting boundaries. Pacifica is a mobile app which can help you manage your stress, anxiety, and depression. One unique feature of the app is the ability to set goals and challenge oneself to achieve them. If you find that saying no is difficult, why not try setting a goal in Pacifica to work on communication and boundary setting? You can also help manage distress by using the Social Situations meditation and build confidence using the Positive Visualization exercise. Learn more about the app here: