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  • RB Kelly

Standing Up For Yourself: How To Say No

Updated: Feb 22, 2019

Growing up, I was subtly taught that it was WRONG to say no to people. Turning people down meant that you were actually a horrible, unkind, and thoughtless human being. That mindset caused a LOT of trouble for me before I finally kicked it to the curb. And once I did, I was heartbroken by how many people around me were sacrificing their happiness, their time, and their safety to avoid minorly inconveniencing the people around them or hurting their feelings.

Consciously choosing to be kind is a good thing. Being unable to say no without feeling guilty is a sign that something is seriously wrong - and you need help.

Being unable to say no is an epidemic. It leads to people getting burned out at work; spiralling into resentment, frustration, and explosive tempers; it is a serious contributing factor in sexual assault and rape.


I'm going to say this once and for all: If you feel like you CAN'T say no, that's a huge sign that you SHOULD say no.


Saying No right away is hard, so here are the steps I recommend for my clients so they can graciously and politely say no - with confidence and peace of mind.


1. Create A Delay. When someone asks you for a favor, don't give them an answer right away! It's very hard to say No to someone's face, and if you try to answer right away, you'll find yourself saying Yes, even though you don't want to. So - create a delay by saying something like: "What an interesting project! Let me take a few days and get back to you." "What a kind offer! Let me think about it, and I'll email you." "This sounds like a big commitment. Let me take your card and I'll call you later." "Let me discuss this with my ____person____, and we'll send you our decision."

Any of these can be customized to suit your exact situation, but the underlying message should be: "I'm going to take some time to think about this, and I'll contact you with my decision." By creating a delay, you give yourself the time and space to consider their request without caving in to pressure.


2. Discover What You Want. Now that you have a little distance and peace to consider their request, you need to get super clear about what you want. Be careful - there is a difference between what you think you want, and what you actually need. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, commit to be brutally honest with yourself, and then ask: Do I want to do this? No really - Do I want to do this? How will I feel about myself and the other person if I do this? And then, respect your answers. If the answer is YES! I WANT TO DO THIS! LET'S GO! Then go ahead and tell the person you're ready to move forward. If the answer is, ....No, I don't really want to do this, then you have your honest answer, and it's time to show respect for yourself and the other person by being honest. WARNING: If you KNOW you don't want to do something, but you say yes anyway, you are opening yourself up to resentment and loathing - for the other person, and for yourself. This is acting like a coward and avoiding short term conflict, but you may disguise it and lie to yourself that you are being 'kind.' That's not true. Lying to yourself and others is never kind - it's actually cruel. True kindness is embracing the short-term conflict to create long-term honesty, prosperity, and respect.


3. Shape Your Rejection. Since you know you don't want to do this and you're respecting yourself and others enough to be honest, it's time to create your rejection. You may think it's impossible to say no and still be kind - that's a myth. You can graciously and politely turn someone down. You also don't have to explain your reasons for saying no. You don't have to create excuses. Here's my standard rejection formula:

"{1. Say thank you and recognize the flattery/honor of being asked.} {2. Pay a compliment to their character.} {3. Prime them for honesty.} {4. State the rejection.} {5. Redirect their attention elsewhere.}" Here's a few examples:

"(1)I'm so flattered to be asked! (2) I know it takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there, so (3) I'm going to be 100% honest with you when I (4) say this isn't a good fit for me. I'm not interested, (5) and I know you'll be happier with someone else." "(1) Thank you for asking me! This sounds like an incredible project, (2) and you are so kind to think of me. (3) You deserve the truth, (4) and I wouldn't be able to make this project the priority it deserves to be. (5) Have you considered asking Beatrice?"


4. Stand Your Ground. You've done the hardest part! Yay! Now you just have to stick to your guns. Most people will respect your decision, but some people will try to push and push and push because they hope you'll give in. Don't reward their bad behavior! Teach them to respect you and others by standing your ground once you make your decision. If someone tries to pressure you into changing your mind, simply repeat your previous rejection, word for word. If they push again, repeat it again. This is the most effective strategy for politely, graciously, showing that you mean business. They'll get the hint. Here are a few things you could add on, to politely show that you are serious.

"Please do me the courtesy of respecting my decision."

"I've made up my mind."

"If I reconsider, I know where to find you."

NOTE: If someone tries to bully you with shouting or insults, leave immediately, and (if applicable) tell their superiors or an authority about their behavior. If they've treated you this way, they've probably treated others this way, too, and your courage could save dozens of other people from this treatment.


Use these steps to stand up for yourself, and get the respect you deserve. Want more strategies for getting the respect and good treatment you deserve? Maybe I can help. I'd love to hear about your unique situation, and show you concrete strategies that you can start using right away to get results!


These steps are highly effective, well-received, and will be comfortable for most people. If you read these steps and think, "I could never do this!" then there may be a bigger issue at play, and a professional counselor would be very helpful for you.

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