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Four ways of saying 'NO' without damaging relationships



Since I started working as a coach and helping people overcome their self-doubt and insecurity at work and step into their power, I realized that being unable to say 'NO' or push back is more common than I had ever imagined. I took it a bit further and started paying more attention to this topic in my interactions with family and friends. I soon noticed that we all do it to a certain extent.


So, when does it become a burden then?

I believe it is when we stop feeling free to do what we want and begin to feel irritated because there is too much on our plate of what we do for others. When we always say 'YES' to requests we actually don't want to do, in the long run, we end up feeling frustrated and resentful. There won't be much time left for things WE WANT TO DO and DRIVE, eventually leading to a lack of motivation and fulfillment from what we do.

I learned that behind that inability to say 'NO' is a fear of damaging relationships. We all want to belong and be loved. And so we strive to get along with others by being kind and helpful. It seems as if, according to social norms, saying 'NO' was not deemed a kind behavior, so we avoid it.


But is that so? I once heard a saying that stuck with me: "We can say anything as long as we say it with respect."

I think it is so true. Saying 'NO' does not have to come with all that resentful, squeaky energy we may be feeling when someone asks us for help and we really CAN'T or don't want to do what they are asking of us.


When you say 'NO' with love and respect, you are honoring yourself and your relationship with the other person. When you make it about YOU and your needs and not about them, you are being honest, which shows the trust in the relationship itself, and confidence in the person being able to handle the situation even without your help. They may feel upset or even angry with you at first, especially if you have always been there before. But eventually, they will calm down, and your relationship will resume, often on a deeper level of mutual respect and appreciation.


I always like to keep things practical, so I wanted to share four specific ways you can say 'NO' without damaging relationships but making them stronger:

  1. Delay mechanism - "Let me think about it or check my calendar and get back to you." It gives you time to check whether you can and want to help with the request. Remember that you have the right to say 'NO'.

  2. Give options - You don't need to say 'NO.' Instead, you can think of two different options to give to the other person. E.g. I can either help you with this at the end of the week or connect you with someone else who could help you right now.

  3. Playful - I really don't like saying 'NO', so if we could work together on finding a way that I could say 'YES', that would be great!

  4. Being open and vulnerable - I am working on protecting my boundaries. I am focusing my time on things I need to finish first; therefore, I have to say 'NO' right now. I hope you can support me in improving my boundaries.


Let me know which ones resonated with you. Which ones are you going to try? Feel free to share some other ways that work for you. I would love to hear from you.

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