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Advice from a Rebel Leader

3 Easy Steps to Say No & Mean It

Never agree out of guilt again

Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

Boundaries are crucial in every relationship, including the relationship with have with ourselves. When what you think impedes what you want, your boundaries are broken, toxic, and uncomfortably secure around the comfort zone of another. Have you ever said yes to an event, volunteer role, creative task, or project out of an obligation? Do others know exactly how to apply shame as pressure to commit? Today is the day we learn how to “hear” between the lines of another’s pitch and enforce our boundaries while preserving the relationship.

The first step to a resounding, enforceable NO is to remember that most of the time, people aren’t aware of the boundary faux pas. You value your time and energy as limited commodities, but it’s not always clear to you or others that you have less to offer than before. This isn’t about waffling about how busy you are already, but simply that you have other commitments you need to honor.

Instead of saying, “I’m just so busy right now, I don’t think I can handle another (insert event/job here),” try saying, “I love volunteering my time, but I’ve already committed (number of hours) to (project) and can’t afford to spend anymore.”

For the friends and family who love and honor you, step one will be enough. Sure, they’ll feel disappointed, but that’s okay. Disappointment fades with understanding and compassion. These relationships understand your boundaries and autonomy with respect.

However, you may receive a shame response. For example, “Gosh, I just figured since you are always so generous with (blank), you would be willing to do this.”

Another favorite: “Seriously? I can’t believe you’re saying no. (This person) is going to be there.”

Comparing your work or judging your willingness compared to another person is not kind, respectful, or encouraging. It is a motivation tactic used to manipulate people into saying YES when they would rather say no. So, how can you repeat and reinforce your stated boundary in response?

The second step to enforcing your boundary is to remember this lovely quote from Jon Acuff, author, and motivational speaker:

“A jerk during the ask will be a jerk during the task.”

Recognizing the lack of kindness in the “ask” of this boundary-breaking conversation will help you recognize that no, this person is probably not the one you want to work alongside, no matter the context. They need some space from accessing you. If you feel yourself inclining toward yes because of this type of social pressure, don’t beat yourself up. Just recognize those moments as a chance to implement our last step to protect your time and energy.

The last step to preserve the dignity of the relationship, try this final boundary. “I appreciate your confidence, but I’ve already said yes to other (projects) and need to honor my commitments. Thank you for the invitation and for your understanding.”

Hard stop.

You may find the last statement incomplete. It isn’t, but because we are so used to apologizing, self-deprecating, and equivocating our time and value, we may feel inclined to apologize. But you have nothing to apologize for. In fact, you are grateful to be recognized as someone with value to contribute. It is an honor to be requested — which is why you are expressing gratitude for the recognition, inclusion, and respect. The next time you are booked solid yet invited to a celebration, to volunteer, or to just work for free, consider implementing these three steps to hold the line and protect your time.

Mandy Capehart is a small business owner, editor, certified grief and life coach, and creator of The Restorative Grief Project. The Restorative Grief Project is an online community focusing on one another’s stories and new methodologies for grief, creating a safe environment for our souls to heal and our spirits to be revived. To learn more, visit or follow along with bi-monthly columns on Ask A Grief Coach!

Read more from Mandy here or follow her on Twitter.
She thinks she is pretty funny. The jury is out.



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Mandy Capehart

Mandy Capehart

Writing about grief, beliefs, & psych/mindfulness. Editor of Ask a Grief Coach. Happily Tweeting & doing other “Very Good Things.” I apologize in advance.