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Why You Should Say ‘No’ More Often, and How to Say It Correctly

Yes, there’s a right way to say it.

Photo by Ismail Hamzah on Unsplash

“The oldest, shortest words — ‘yes’ and ‘no’ — are those which require the most thought.”

— Pythagoras

Well, the father of the Pythagorean theorem wasn’t so smart after all — he was only half-right this time around.

In this day and age, a ‘yes’ would take no longer than a couple of seconds, and a ‘no’ — if ever uttered, or typed and sent — would take hours, if not days, at the very least. But, we all know that’s not how it is supposed to be, and that a ‘yes’ should be contemplated as much as a ‘no.’

You’re the ‘Rejector’ and the Reject.

Back then, when a friend invited me to hang out after a long day at work, nine out of ten times, I would say yes. Why? Because the alternative meant that the other person had to handle rejection, and I would’ve had to deal the blow, which is something I always struggle to do even to this day.

No one wants to hear the word no. No one wants to say the word no. The latter is an uncomfortable predicament that is to be avoided like a plague. I would ghost people just to avoid saying it.

Even if I did say no, I would make sure to back it up with a believable story (read: a lie) to avoid bruising the other person’s ego, which is even worse from a moral standpoint.

At a glance, this people-pleasing behavior seemed to come from the goodness of my heart. I didn’t want to let anyone down because frankly speaking, rejection sucks — for both sides. But in reality, I was a coward who couldn’t stand my ground.

And it took me a while to realize this, maybe because I’ve always gotten swept along with people’s requests for my time that I was blinded to this one simple fact: Every yes is a no to something else. Every time we accepted someone else’s request for our time, we rejected our own request for our own time. It’s nothing revelationary, I know.

But then again, if you think about it — it’s funny how easy it is for us to be the ‘rejector’ and to be rejected both at the same time. And yet, we don’t even have the guts to say no to someone we barely know.

I thought we all had an agreement that this year (or every year) is the “year of self-love”, the year we should put ourselves first and foremost — that we’re the most important person in our lives? And what happened to those self-love hashtags in our Instagram captions? Were they all just shams?

No? Great.

So without further ado, let’s dive deeper into why you really should say ‘no’ more often… by first understand a basic theory in microeconomics, that is, opportunity cost.

Every Yes is a No to Something Else

Oxford Languages defined opportunity cost as:

The loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

The easiest example is right now.

You’ve been reading this article for, say two minutes now. At the same time, you’ve used a tiny amount of energy, and since this article is behind Medium’s paywall, some amount of money (no greater than $5)— depending on how many articles you’re reading this month — was spent.

You could’ve invested these resources — time, energy, money—into something else entirely. You could’ve read memes and news on Reddit, or scrolled Instagram and Twitter, or daydream. But you didn’t, you stuck around, and for that I’m thankful.

Now, this begs the question: How to make sure you’re using these scarce resources of yours wisely?

No one knows for sure, other than yourself — even then you can’t be so sure of yourself. But, you can be sure that there’s a foolish way to use them, and that is, to please someone else.

“I can’t tell you the key to success but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”

— Ed Sheeran

A ‘no’ means you could work on your side hustle at home, or it could mean reading fanfictions on Wattpad or binging your favorite series on Netflix until 5 a.m. Either way, it doesn’t matter what you end up doing, because at the end of the day, you’re using your time, energy, money for the one who matters most: you.

But, hang on a second — that doesn’t mean you get to be a selfish prick and say ‘no’ literally to every single thing that doesn’t benefit you in any way. Doing that wouldn’t make you happy either.

I’m telling you to say ‘no’ to those days where you’d have to drag yourself out of the house to the bar when all you wanted to do is stay in. And to say ‘no’ when a colleague asks for your help at work when you already have too much on your plate. You get the gist of it.

So, you might be wondering, is there a way to say ‘no’ without making both sides miserable afterward?

Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

The Art of Saying No

“Tone is the hardest part of saying no.”

― Jonathan Price

In the spirit of this article, I would first begin by telling you the five big nos of The Art of Saying No.

#1. Just Say ‘No’

The easiest and the fastest way to make people “dislike” (hate is too strong of a word) you, unless of course, that’s what you intend to do.

#2. The Suspicious Essay

You don’t have to write a few hundred words essay on why you think their requests don’t benefit you, or why you have hundreds of other commitments, or why you have to bring your pet lizard to the vet on a Friday night.

One, it’s not an exam, and two, they’ll think that you’re lying to them. You know what they say about liars: they tend to give too much information and overshare.

#3. The White Lie

My go-to rejection method and everyone’s favorite. Looking back now, I know exactly the reason why you and I both had to resort to such measures most of the time.

The reason why we would come up with a lie is that we seem to have this notion that our real excuse isn’t good enough to justify the ‘no’. But, telling a lie — a white lie or not — often leads to guilt, which is the one feeling we’re trying to avoid in the first place.

Even though it’s tempting to do, don’t lie through your teeth; you’ll feel bad about yourself, and it’ll become habitual. And once it does, believe me, it’s only a matter of time before they catch you in the act.

#4. The Ghoster

This is without a doubt, the easiest and the worst way to reject someone’s request. Nothing screams “I’m a coward” more than this. If they matter to you in the slightest, at the very least, you owe them a simple explanation — a sentence, a word, an emoji — you name it, would be better than this.

I had burnt way too many bridges by doing this cowardly act. Learn from me. Don’t do it.

#5. The Last Minute ‘No’

You said yes, but then, at the eleventh hour, you bailed out and said ‘no.’

“Cancelling plans is like heroin, it is an amazing feeling. Such instant joy.”

— John Mulaney

He got that right on the money.

From a logical standpoint, canceling plans at the last minute supposed to make you feel bad: it’s rude, disrespectful, and inconsiderate. But strangely enough, doing it doesn’t make you feel any remorse, in fact, you often feel great about it. Why? One word: Relief.

However, you have to keep in mind that heroin might make you feel euphoric for a moment, but in the long run, it can destroy your life. Now, I’m not saying that flaking on people might wreck your life, but, it might just ruin a part of it, that is, your social life.

Here’s the Right Way to Say ‘No’

By the process of elimination, then, this is how you should say ‘no’:

  1. Be polite.
  2. Be honest — tell them the real reason you can’t accept their requests.
  3. Suggest another person who can help them or another time when you can be sure to make it.
  4. Don’t delay it — procrastination can lead to mounting tension, which causes the situation to worsen.
  5. Lastly, make sure to include their name.

“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” — Dale Carnegie, author of the bestseller, How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Hey Dave. I’m sorry but I can’t make it tomorrow night. Just feel like chilling at home this weekend. How about Friday next week?”

Now, send it.



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