Have you ever made cookies at midnight for a classroom party because someone called you with desperation in their voice? Did you become chair of a committee that you really aren’t interested in, but everyone said you would do a good job? How about helping with a charity yard sale on your sunny day off?

Why do we say yes when we really want to say no?

At the very basic level, we say yes because we want to be liked. We want to please and help others out, but we also don’t like conflict and are unable to refuse a request. Often times we say “yes” instead of saying “no” out of guilt, inner conflict, loyalty to a person, or a misguided notion that we can please everyone.

By learning how to say no you will reduce your stress level as well as have more time for what’s really important to you, such as your personal goals, your vision for your life, your values, and self-care.

There are only so many hours in the day. That means whatever you choose to take on limits your ability to do other things. Even if you somehow can fit a new commitment into your schedule, if it’s not more important than what you would have to give up to do it (including time for yourself), you really don’t have the time in your schedule.

Yes, you can say no!

One of the most important things to do before you say yes or no to a request is to separate the decision you need to make from the person who is making the request.

  • Decide if you want to accept the request based on what is right for you, not the person making the ask.
  • Think of the trade-offs if you decide to say yes. What will you need to give up? Sleep? A different opportunity? Time with your kids?
  • If you decide to say no, be okay with the possibility of disappointing someone. Remind yourself why you are choosing no and be okay with it.
  • Keep in mind that a clear no is more respectful than a vague or non-committed yes. It’s also better than not being able to do a good job at what you are being asked to do.

Once you’ve decided that no is the right answer, here’s a step-by-step script for you to use to say no firmly and politely. I suggest practicing it and memorizing it so you will be ready to say no when it’s least expected.

Example: Betty, will you be on the nominating committee for the incoming booster club board? You would do a great job and we are desperate! We really need you!

PART 1: Your Initial Response

Option 1: Thank you so much for asking. It means a lot to me that you think I can do that. I need to say no and encourage you to ask someone else. I wish I could help you but I can’t this time.

Option 2: Thank you for asking. I am over-committed and have to say no. 

Option 3:  When you truly want to help but want to call the shots on how much time is involved you can say, I can’t do all of that, but I could do this part.

Pick an option that feels most comfortable for you, or develop your own and then practice it. The key here is to plan ahead and be ready.

Now, what if they are persistent and just won’t take “no” for an answer?

PART 2But, We Need You!

Here’s the second part of your script after they blather on about why you have to do it, why no one else can, or any other guilt-inducing reason.

Say: That may be true. No thank you.  

If asked for an explanation, remember that you really don’t owe one to anyone. It doesn’t fit with my schedule, or I’m over-committed right now is a perfectly appropriate response. Be a broken record if you need to.

PART 3: Your Final Answer

If they still continue to try to convince you, smile, lean over, and whisper in their ear “no.”  Then walk away.

And remember, your no is someone else’s yes! You never know what kind of an opportunity you may be giving someone else.

Practice your script and be ready for the ask. It may come when you least expect it or don’t have the energy to deal with it.

Take care of yourself and just say no.


Betty Lochner is a human resources consultant, business coach, and expert in workplace communications. She is the author of two books on communication, and a newly published journal, Intentional Gratitude.

For resources, tips, and tools for leadership training, management coaching, and effective communication in the workplace, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn today.