Learning How to Say “No.”

Posted October 10, 2012 by Marcy Farrey in Life After Five

It’s something I’ve been told before, and it seems to be a problem for a lot of women: “You have to learn how to say ‘No.’”

I’ve told you the benefits of saying “Yes!” to great opportunities, even if you’re afraid. But as I mentioned in that previous article, sometimes we say “Yes,” to extra tasks that we shouldn’t agree to. I’m definitely guilty of this — and it’s hard, because my natural instinct is to help whenever I can. Underneath this, though, is a desire to please others whenever I can. But whenever we’re motivated by a desire to please others, it backfires — because usually it means we aren’t caring enough for ourselves. And some people, no matter how many times you help them, will never be pleased. When there is no real benefit to being the people-pleaser, why is it still so hard to say “No”?

For me, I think it is just a habit. I’ve never learned how to say “No,” with confidence. It’s always been “Well, I’m a little busy, but . . .” So when I came across the Life’d article from Jennifer Smith, “Saying No: 6 Essential Tips,” I was relieved. Finally, some sort of guidance! Here’s a few ways you can break the “Yes” habit:

Take it Slow. You can’t break the habit overnight, but you can get started right away with small steps. Smith suggests you take note of how often you say “Yes,” and how many of those times you either didn’t really want to say it, or later regretted it. “You might notice that certain people or situations make it feel harder for you to say no,” she says. Look for those moments and recognize them — that’s a step in itself. Also, pick something small to start with, then do the opposite of what you would normally do: Politely say “No.”

Change Your Reflexes. As Smith says, your go-to response will be “Yes.” Now, you have to change that reflex, and try making “No” your usual response. If you find that you have time to help someone later, you can always go back and offer to help.

Remember the Benefits. Having trouble convincing yourself that it’s better to say no? Focus on the good that it can do for you and your life. You might finally have time to get to that project you’ve been wanting to start, or you might have more time for your friends and family:

Every time we say yes to a request, it means saying no to something else. Remind yourself of this regularly, it is an important point! As you say no to requests, notice how it frees you up for something you really want to do.

Finally learning to say no could be the cure for your work/life stress. Even if the requests are from people you love and respect, remember that your health and sanity is important, too. The people who care about you will understand this, and recognize that you are there when they really need you.

Check out the rest of Smith’s great tips here.

About the Author

Marcy Farrey

Marcy Farrey is a videographer, writer, and editor. In her previous life, she worked as a broadcast news reporter and producer in Lincoln, Nebraska and as a writer and producer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University and a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University. Learn more about Marcy on her website www.marcyfarrey.com.


    Erin B.

    I cannot tell you how perfect this article is for me at this moment! I was just looking over my schedule through October 23, and I have somewhere to be/tasks due everyday including weekends from 7am to 10pm…not joking. And some of them are not guaranteed payment.

    Thank you for being clairvoyant and writing this article for me at this very moment. Much appreciated!


      Hi Erin! I’m glad this post could help. I know the pain of over-scheduling…and a lot of times, I was also doing the work for free! It happened a lot when I was interning and freelancing. It’s hard to say no — I’m still working on it!
      I hope you’re able to free up your schedule!

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