The Art of Saying ‘No’

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One Little Word

‘No’ seems like a simple word. Two letters, one syllable, simple, right? Why shouldn’t it be? We say it early and often in life. Ask any parent how easily their toddler says that one little word. So why, as adults, do we find it difficult?


We’re brought up learning a certain social style, an image to uphold. Be polite. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Use your manners. Don’t tell your mother ‘no.’ Do what your teacher (and later, your boss) tells you. We’re taught to be obedient and helpful. ‘No’ becomes a matter of image. We don’t want to be rude. Saying ‘no’ could be impolite or it could send a message that we can’t handle something. We don’t want that image either. After all, we’re building that resume. We need to look amazing. Say ‘yes’ as often as possible… right?

The Breaking Point

Truthfully, there’s only so much we can handle before we’re overloaded. There’s family obligations, work, bills, hobbies, friends, household projects, and other things that collide in our busy schedules. You have to wonder if the only person we’re saying ‘no’ to is ourselves. So where’s the breaking point?

Here’s a thought: it wasn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back. The straw just tipped the breaking point. Truly, somewhere long before the straw, the camel was on a road to self damage with all those heavy loads. 

Do you do this? Is it the school bake off or carpooling to sports? Maybe it’s the work party or extra project you thought you could handle. Perhaps you could handle it, if fifty other items weren’t on your plate. The science fair would be fine if you hadn’t also committed to baking a dish for your recently widowed neighbor. But who wants to say ‘no’ to that poor woman?

Tips for Saying ‘No’

Try this for a moment. Go on, no one’s listening and we won’t tell. Start with, ‘nnnnn,’ then try, ‘oooo.’ There! Feel better? You can do it! All kidding aside, here’s some tips for saying ‘no’ and when to know you need to. First, it’s okay to say ‘no’ and that’s important to know. So, there’s that. Second, it can be done politely.

“Hey, I’d love to cook a dish for Mrs. Smith and the kids, but I’m strapped for time. Can I donate something or do it next week?” (Okay, that’s a half ‘no,’ but it counts.)

“I’m so sorry, I have another commitment so I won’t be able to make the ceremony, but congratulations!”

“Hey [insert boss’s name], I’m trying to put in my best effort on the April spreadsheets and I don’t want to run behind. I’m afraid if I start a new project too soon, I’ll miss important details. Is anyone else available?”

“I really want to help with [that thing] but I can’t right now. Sorry!”

Don’t Forget Yourself

So here’s a quick check to know if you should say ‘no’ more often. We know things come up last minute. It happens. So always include a buffer in your to-do list and schedule. If you’re straight out with projects and everything is back-to-back, that straw is coming for you. Back it up and slow it down. Ask for help. Don’t forget yourself. You need ‘you’ to be on your to-do list and schedule too! Let’s practice saying ‘yes’ more to ourselves. Show that straw who’s boss.