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How to Say “No” with Confidence & Peace

“No” can be one of the most challenging words for a people pleaser to utter. In fact, for those of us who are wired to avoid conflict, it can be excruciating to deny a request or “let someone down”—even if it means abandoning ourselves. Although it may feel difficult or wrong not to grant someone’s request, being truly honest about who you are, what you want and how you feel is actually an act of love and respect for another person.

You can tell when you are with someone who shows up as their true self—there is a playful, relaxed and loving energy that attracts and draws others. You know they say what they mean and mean what they say.  You don’t have to worry about hidden agendas. If they are with you, you know it’s because that’s where they want to be. This kind of person is a gift to the world.

Learning to say no without angst just takes a little bit of courage and a lot of practice. Here are some tips:

Give Yourself a Minute

The first key in learning to say no is to stop automatically saying yes.  Pause and take a breath before responding to someone’s request.  Give yourself time if you need it by saying, “I need to think about it first – I’ll get back to you,” or, “Let me check my schedule and call you back.”

No is such a simple word but it can stick in your throat when you’re not used to uttering it.  When you’ve decided to say “No” to someone, whether it’s your latest connection, your neighbor asking for an inconvenient favor or the sweet little Girl Scout selling cookies at your door, it’s best to come right out with it rather than dragging it out.

Here are some ways to turn someone down with grace:

  • I’ll have to decline but thanks for asking
  • Thanks for thinking of me but I’m not going to participate this time
  • I can’t make it, but I hope you enjoy it
  • That won’t work for me
  • Right now is not a good time for me to do that
  • It was great meeting you, but we’re just not a good fit
  • This doesn’t match up with my goals
  • I’ve decided not to do this
  • No thank you, I don’t need any of that
  • Let’s agree to disagree
  • Maybe next time
  • The timing doesn’t work for me
  • Thanks, but I’m not interested in doing that, going there, buying that, etc.

Important Note: You Don’t Have to Explain Yourself With a kind smile, use one of the phrases above and then stop talking! No matter how tempting it is, do not attempt to soften the blow of “no” with excuses, justifications or explanations. Your reasons are your own and that’s all that matters. Besides, cutting right to the bottom line is the kindest most respectful action you can take when bowing out.

A Work in Progress

You may be saying “no” for the first time to people you’ve always said “yes” to in the past. It could take a while for them to adjust, but they will adjust over time if you stick to it. Remember the lesson from the last post in this series, you are NOT responsible for how others react to or feel about you declining something.

There might be some in your circle of family and friends who are invested in you being their reliable door mat and yes person. If so, these people may become more distant, or drift out of your life, as you become better at being true to yourself. That’s OK. You’ll attract, or become closer to, others who appreciate relationships built on honesty and a balance of give and take.

Regardless of whether you’ve had a pleaser pattern up to this point, it’s never too late to set your intention to be true to yourself and show up authentically.  Mastering a pleaser pattern, or any pattern for that matter, is an ongoing, conscious and intentional practice. Fortunately, our lives provide almost constant opportunities to advocate for ourselves and, while we might sometimes fail, we often meet the challenge.

The goal is to be loving and gentle with yourself as you work to increase the percentage of times that you stand in your courage, integrity and truth.

I hope my four-part series on Ending the Tyranny of People Pleasing was helpful! In case you missed them, below are links to Parts 1, 2 and 3:

Part 1: The Practice of Being True to Yourself and People Pleaser Pop Quiz

Part 2: Get Back in Touch with What YOU Want

Part 3: Giving Up Over-Responsibility for the Feelings of Others

Deb Purdy, is a transformation coach, speaker, workshop leader and author of
Something Gained: 7 Shifts to Be Stronger, Smarter and Happier After Divorce.

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