Knowing when to say no to someone and then how to say no are two of the most difficult things we have to do when interacting with people. By nature, many of us are people pleasers. We want to help people as much as we can and we want to make people happy. This puts our own happiness and well being on a back burner and can be quite damaging. Learning to set healthy boundaries does not mean disappointing or letting people down and is not selfish. It is a vital skill to maintaining ourselves, our health, and our relationships.
When to Say No:
Determine if it is reasonable: Is the request reasonable? This is a personal decision, what seems reasonable to me may not be to someone else and vice versa. Consider the impact it will have on your daily life and determine if it is feasible. Consider the motivation behind the person asking. Consider if this is a pattern or a one time incident.
Consider your own situation: It’s important to understand your own situation and how helping others impacts you. It may sound self-centered initially; however, helping others to the detriment of yourself helps nobody. If someone asks for assistance consider what impact it has on your situation and if you are able to do it. If you have children you may need to weigh if it will take too much time away from them or impact your ability to care for them. If you have health issues you need to consider the effects of helping on your well being. While in most cases we want to help others, it is important to know to take care of yourself and responsibilities first in order to be in the best place to help people.
Delay your answer: If you are not sure if your answer should be yes or no, it is okay to stall. Saying that you need to check something or asking for time to think about it is perfectly acceptable and should be accepted by the person asking. If it is not, then there is a good chance that that will help you determine if this is a request you should say no to. In some cases it is necessary to answer immediately, but most of the time making sure you take the time to weigh whether or not you can actually do what is asked is beneficial to both parties. Giving a delayed answer will always be better than agreeing to something you are unable to do and having to say no later.
Consider your feelings: Your feelings will often give you vital clues into whether or not you should say no. If negative feelings such as fear, being nervous, resentment, or even questioning if you are being manipulated occur, it is a sign that the request may be coming from an unhealthy place or that it may be something that is unhealthy for you to take on.
Make sure you know what you are saying yes or no to: Make sure that you get all of the details. If you are unclear what someone is asking, ask for clarification. If you leave things vague, you may be saying yes to something that may be way out of what you are comfortable with. If the person cannot provide more details or is offended by you asking, chances are the request was not coming from a healthy place and it may be best to say no anyway. Again, asking for more details is always a better option than saying yes to something that you may not be able to follow through with and having to say no later.
How to Say No:
Be clear and direct: Do not leave room for them to misinterpret your answer. It is important to be polite, but clear and direct. If you leave hesitancy or doubt they may continue to wait for an answer and then lose out on asking someone else for help or become mad at you because they did not get the help they needed. You do not need to provide a long explanation of why you are saying no, simply say no and if you feel an explanation is needed keep it brief. Do not apologize because that implies that you saying no is doing something wrong when it is not.
Remember it is not selfish: Often times saying no leads to a considerable amount of guilt. This guilt may come from feeling that you let someone down or that you are selfish for saying no. Neither of those scenarios are true. It is healthy to have boundaries. Saying no is part of taking care of yourself. Without ever saying no, you run the risk of burning yourself out and then you won’t be able to ever say yes.
Don’t feel guilty: This is the hardest part of saying no for most people. Nobody wants to let someone down or see someone struggle. It is easier to put ourselves in the uncomfortable situation, but unfortunately that is not healthy for either party. When saying no it is important not to ruminate about it. Make your decision, say no, and move on. Once you have become more proficient at knowing when to say no and at actually saying no, it becomes easier. This is not a negative thing. Losing the guilt and having an easier time saying no when needed forms clear and healthy boundaries and allows you to say yes when you can and help at a better quality because you are not sacrificing your own well being. Saying no is healthy, and there is no need to feel guilty about being healthy.