How to find the most effective ways of saying 'no'

Learning to say ‘no’ can help you to stop doing things for other people which you really do not want to do. By doing this you can ease the frustration and resentment that has built up over time with certain people. Relationships, whether at work or in your personal world, can be poisoned by not saying ‘no’ and it can mean that you have little control over your time in your life.

You may sometimes mistakenly believe that it is rude or aggressive to say ’no’, or that you are being unkind, uncaring and selfish. You may also believe that saying ‘no’ to somebody will upset them and make them feel rejected. It is important to challenge these key beliefs and seek to modify them. Saying ’no’ to somebody does not mean they will cease to like you.

The key to refusing requests is to be able to accept that other people have the right to ask, and that you have the right to refuse. You are not rejecting a person, just refusing a request. People who find it challenging saying ‘no’ invariably over-estimate the difficulty that the other person will have in accepting the refusal. In practice what usually happens is that they learn to better express their feelings too.

It is best to keep it brief when saying ‘no’. Try to avoid long rambling justifications, this merely communicates ambivalence and hesitation. You can be polite, saying something like, ‘thank you for asking but…’. Speak slowly and with warmth as otherwise saying ‘no’ might come across as sounding abrupt. But remember to be honest about your feelings. It could help to say something like ‘I find this difficult but I have to say...’.

Ways of saying ‘no’:

Direct ‘no’. The aim here is to say no without apologising. The other person has the problem, don’t bail them out. This can be useful when dealing with persistent salespeople. 

Reflecting ‘no’. This involves reflecting back the content and feeling of the request but adding your assertive refusal at the end. An example could be; ‘I know you’re looking forward to a trip to the bar tonight but I can’t come’.

Reasoned ‘no’. This is when you offer the reason for your refusal. For example; ‘I can’t come to the bar tonight because I need to look after my partner, who is unwell’.

Raincheck ‘no’. This leaves room for negotiation. You can offer the possibility of a future trip to the bar.

Enquiring ‘no’. This could also be a prelude to negotiation such as asking if there are any other times they would like to go.

Counselling and psychotherapy can help you to review why it has been so hard in your life to say ‘no’. Your self-esteem will build the more you review your decision making and learn to do the things that are in your better interests. You will also have the opportunity to explore ways of communicating in a safe and private space so that you can speak your mind more effectively in your life. This can be useful when there is a hostile business environment where the implied expectation is that you say ’yes’ to every request.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London SE1 & SE26
Written by Noel Bell, MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP
London SE1 & SE26

Noel Bell is a UKCP accredited clinical psychotherapist in London who has spent over 20 years exploring and studying personal growth, recovery from addictions and inner transformation. Noel is an integrative therapist and draws upon the most effective tools and techniques from the psychodynamic, CBT, humanist, existential and transpersonal schools.

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