“Do you mind staying late and helping me finish this project?”

“Can I borrow $20 until Friday?”

Questions like these would often throw me in a whirl of emotions from frustration to anger to guilt to resignation, all because I tend to be a people-pleaser and did not know how to say NO.

If you have trouble saying NO sometimes, read on! I will share how I learned to assert myself by:

  • Realizing saying NO does not make you a bad person
  • Reframing the situation
  • Using phrases from the communication toolbox
  • Handling pushback

Saying NO does not make you a bad person. I believed that “nice” people always help their friends, that it would be rude and selfish to put my needs and wants ahead of someone else’s. I believed they would hold it against me if I said no, and I didn’t want to hurt our friendship.

The truth is, a good friend will respect your honesty and your decision.

Reframing is the key word. Saying no doesn’t have to be the blunt, harsh reply that will leave your friend staring at you with their eyes and mouth wide open, wondering what happened to their sweet friend.  It may take practice in front of a mirror saying no in a pleasant, but assertive way without a tone of apology.

Put these simple phrases in your communication toolbox for when you need them! Each of them depends on what type of request is being made.

  • “That’s an excellent offer, I’m just not able to take advantage of that right now” (when asked to buy something)
  • “I really admire your dedication and effort you always give. I’m just not able to put time into the project right now” (soften with a complement)
  • “Let me think on that” (for when time is on your side, giving them time to come up with a plan B)
  • “I’m just not comfortable with that” (things that go against your values)
  • “This is not a good time for me to do that” (request for money, etc)
  • “That is something I will need to discuss with ____” (things that can affect another person)
  • “It is my policy not to do that” (loan things, etc)

Sometimes a person will push back and the situation becomes more complicated. At this point, they are not being a considerate friend and you need to be more assertive. Here are some helpful hints:

  • Don’t overexplain. Keep it simple. The more you talk, the more unsure you will sound.
  • Tell it like it is. Say your real reason for saying no.
  • Suggest another option, a win-win if possible.
  • Play the friend card. “I know you can understand where I’m coming from”.
  • If they refuse to back down and it’s getting awkward, then it’s time to just leave. You can say “I’ve got to get going. We’ll talk later.”

As I’ve got older, I have come to realize that people who do not respect my NO are not the kind of people I want to keep in my inner circle. This realization, along with the phrases in my communication toolbox, have taken a lot of stress out of my life.

Using some of these communication tools will help you reframe the situation and make it a breeze to say no the next time you are facing a request that just won’t work for you.

-Jan Jones

For more on the art of saying NO: