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How To Say No Without The Guilt

It happens. Someone asks us for a favor and we feel obligated to say yes. We don’t want to hurt their feelings. And we want to be there for them. We want them to know that they can come to us. This is all part of friendship, or any sort of relationship. It can be hard to say no.

But sometimes when you say yes too much, it can be easy to be taken advantage of. Now I’m not saying that the person – whether that be your friend, significant other, boss, whomever – is doing it on purpose. They very likely aren’t. But, when someone has a habit of always saying yes, that’s who people are going to go to for things. I mean think about it, haven’t you done that? Picked one person over the other for something because you knew they were more likely to say yes? It’s part of human nature.

That’s why we need to know when to say no. We need to remember to put ourselves first too (that is all part of self-care, right?). We should not be people pleasers.

Now, of course, I am in no way saying that you should not be there for someone if they need something. But if it’s the fourth day in a row your friend is forcing you into something you don’t want to do, or if you just finished a major project at work and are just handed another one when there’s people in your office who haven’t done anything in months – you need to stick up for yourself; you need to say no.

How can we do that – say no without the guilt?

1. Know You Don’t Always Need To Say Yes

This may seem like common sense, but, it needs to be said. Despite feeling like it, you are not obligated to always say yes. We have free will! And we can make our own decisions! We have the ability to do whatever we want – whatever makes us happy! Of course, if it’s an important project for work you likely can’t say no to your boss. But in most situations, you do have the option of saying no, and it’s okay if you do. Especially if something is not in your best interest, say no.

2. Be There In Other Ways 

Invite your friend to that great new restaurant you knew that she also wanted to try. Take initiative on a work project that you really enjoy and will help you build up your own skills. Reach out to someone you know is having a difficult time.

The opportunities to be there for someone else, someone who is important in your life, are endless. By doing these acts – many of which can be small acts of kindness – show the person that you are there for them. If you were to say no to something, they will likely be more understanding, as you have been there for them many times in the past when they needed you, and they know you will be there in the future.

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3. Explain Why You’re Saying No

Sometimes it’s not always easy for us to see things from someone else’s perspective. If you say no and the person you are saying no to does not fully know what is going on in your life or why you are saying no, they are more likely to get bad. But, if you explain your situation and your feelings, they should be more understanding as to now they know where you are coming from. Remember, communication and honesty are keys for any sort of relationship.

4. Is There An Opportunity for Compromise?

In the words of Zedd, Maren Morris, and Grey, “oh baby, why don’t you just meet me in the middle?” Well, why not? If you’re being asked to do something you really don’t want to do, is there a compromise you can make that would make both parties happy? Take some time before responding to your friend/boyfriend/boss/girlfriend/whomever and see if you can come up with a mid-point. Then when you respond, you have the opportunity to say “unfortunately, i’d prefer not to do that but I would love to do XXXX with you” or “I’m sorry, but I just don’t think I will be able to do that. Is there any compromise we can come up with instead?”

5. Remember That You Cannot Do Everything

Multi-tasking is a beautiful thing, and technology has most definitely made this easier (and more common) for all of us. But, just because we are able to juggle more than one thing at once doesn’t mean that we can in fact, do everything. We all have our limits. I mean, we’re only human, there’s only so much we can handle. Know your limits. Remember that no one is able to do everything. You are not the first person to say to no to something, and you will not be the last. It’s just physically impossible to be able to do everything.

If you’re placed in a situation where you feel obligated to say yes, just repeat these words in your head – “it’s okay to say no.” Now, please do not  become that person who is always saying no, because, well, that’s just not okay. You should be there for people, as much as you can be. But, that doesn’t mean you need to drop everything you’re doing whenever someone else needs, or that you need to be doing things that you very much do not want to do. Please, remember that.

About the Author

Michelle Ioannou

Michelle graduated from Fordham University with a Bachelors of Arts '13 and a Master of Arts '14. She's currently working in corporate America with a side of freelance writing. She wants you to learn from her experiences and mistakes so your 20s can be your best decade. When she's not working, she's likely planning her escape to a tropical island.