5 Effective Ways to Say No Without Offending Anyone

How you can build the one skill that will make you put your priorities in order

Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash

In my previous post, I shared a technique to prioritize work, which works like a charm.

It was the ABCD technique:

A — Apna kaam (your own work first)

B — Boss ka kaam (your boss’ work next)

C — Company ka kaam (the company’s work third)

D — Doosron ka kaam (others’ work after everything else)

But many people find it difficult to do their own work first. In fact, they keep doing others’ work more than they do their own. Because others keep approaching them for ‘favors’ and sabotaging their schedules. And if the person who obliges says no, they might get offended.

Look. I get it.

Saying ‘no’ appears like career suicide. Plus you’re afraid that you might sour relations or friendships. You’d rather be strapped to a chair while someone claws their nails on a blackboard.

Isn’t that right?

But trying to please everyone is as harmful as eating junk food all the time. Pleasing everyone (or even trying) makes you feel undermined and insecure. Also, people burden you with more work, which causes frustration, burnout, and anxiety.

If this is how you feel, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Many people go through the same. So many that researchers made ‘saying no’ a subject to study.

And the results are promising.

The Benefits of Saying No

Secretly, you know that you must turn down ‘favors’ people ask of you. You know that you must take care of yourself and your work before you use your energy to help others. You must say no more often.

But if you do, the other person might feel bad. She could change her opinion of you. You could also lose your feeling of connectedness in the relation.


Not so, according to Vanessa Bohns, associate professor at Cornell University. She said,

“People don’t take no as badly as we think they will. Chances are, the consequences of saying ‘no’ are much worse in our heads than in reality.”

Think about it.

When was the last time you ended a friendship because someone declined a simple request from you? I’m guessing you’d have to think hard. Even then, chances are you’ll draw a blank.

The same applies to you.

So, if you want to code instead of hanging out with friends, say no to your friends. They won’t mind. If you have a constructive task to pursue, say no to lazy colleagues who offload their work to others. They’ll find another naive scapegoat anyway.

Here are four more compelling benefits you enjoy when you say no:

1. You stay in control.

You, not your friends or colleagues, know what’s best for you. Saying no to what you don’t like lets you focus on what you do. As a result, you stay in control your life instead of letting others control it.

2. You are happy.

Refusing tasks you don’t want to do, frees up time for those you want to. According to the Dalai Lama, doing more of what you like and less of what you don’t makes you happy. And it’s happiness that leads to success, not vice versa.

3. You get respect.

For your ‘yes’ to mean something, you must say ‘no’ more often.

If people realize you’re not one say yes easily, they’ll respect you. And they’ll choose the tasks for which they approach you for help.

4. Bye, bye, negative people.


The effect of saying no is two-fold.

One, you can focus on what you truly desire. Two, you identify people who deserve to be in your life, who don’t mind you denying their requests. And those who get offended… well, they can go their merry ways.

5 Steps to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

Now that we’re clear on the benefits, let’s discuss how you can say no assertively.

1. Deny the request, not the person.

In your mind and words, make it clear that you’re denying the request, not the person. Look the person in the eye, smile genuinely and explain why you’re denying the request. Understand that the guilt you feel is self-created.

You can start with an “I wish I could, but….” to muffle the impact when you decline a request.

2. Be firm once you take a decision.

Once you’ve said no (or yes), stick to your guns. Part of effectively saying no involves being gently firm. No arrogance, just firmness. If you get convinced against your will, people will recognize a pattern and use it against you. And you will end up right where you started.

If you’ve said yes, root yourself in the present moment and work on the task. You have no way out, so you might as well give it your best.

3. Offer an alternative.

You may not like the hotel your friends want to eat at. At such times, offer alternatives. For instance, say “I don’t like the hotel because its service is slow. Why don’t we go to another one instead?” Or if a colleague asks for help when you’re pressed for time, say “I have a deadline to meet. If someone else doesn’t help you, come back after Thursday. We’ll work on it together.”

See? Doesn’t it become easier?

4. Delay the response.

Sapiens are impulsive by nature. We often jump the gun, only to regret our decisions later. An impulsive ‘yes’ could submerge you in a deluge of work. Just like that, an immediate ‘no’ could make you rue your decision. Because in hindsight, the task was constructive and fun.

Take time to make a decision. Weigh the pros and cons. According to research, an effective way to do so is to sleep on it.

5. Practice on yourself first.

To say no to others, you must start with yourself. Refrain from spending on what you don’t need. Say no to whipped cream in your coffee at Starbucks. Avoid taking a cab when you can walk.

Research states that the more you strengthen your willpower, the easier it becomes to say no. So practice strengthening your willpower.

6. Bonus tip: Relax

The key to saying no without hurting others is to relax.

Practice in front of the mirror. Be audible. Observe your non-verbal communication. Does your body stiffen? Does your mouth twitch? Do you frown? These are signs of tension.

Regular practice will help you ease your body and mind. It’ll teach you to relax.

You Deserve Better

What matters to you? Personal happiness or pleasing everyone?

Nobody can please the world. Even Michael Jackson and Nelson Mandela had (have) plenty of haters. You won’t be any different. So stop trying.

Instead, dedicate time to do what satisfies you. Prioritize your work so that you can advance in your personal and professional life. Choose between what matters and what doesn’t. Say yes to the former, and no to the latter. Believe me, saying no is not as tough as it appears right now.

Don’t work on fulfilling others’ dreams for the rest of your life. It’s time you started fulfilling your own.

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