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  • Do you have trouble saying no to requests from family, friends and colleagues for fear of disappointing them?
  • Do you feel obligated to purchase something from the salesperson just because they have spent their time servicing you or offer you product samples?
  • Are you having difficulty to decide on whether to accept a job offer or a business proposal although it’s really something you’re not keen?

There are way more scenarios I can conjure up simply because I’ve been through many situations where I can’t say no. I’ve been nicknamed the “Yes Queen.” I said yes to almost anything that are asked of me to the point that it negatively impacted my health. I was so “overbooked” for jobs that I wasn’t getting paid for and requests that were just eating up my time that I got deeper and deeper into debts. How else can I pay my bills and credit cards when I was turning down paid jobs because I had no time to take them on? Yes, it was stupid, real stupid.

I’m a person who pride myself in being reliable and true to my words, so saying no to requests that I already said yes to was not an option even though I knew I couldn’t cope anymore. I became frustrated, which then led to resentment towards the people. I felt under-appreciated and used. Yet, it was my fault alone as I was the one who chose to be stuck in the cycle of saying yes.

Why Can’t We Say No and Why We Should

The reasons we can’t say no have a lot to do with our own beliefs and assumptions about people and situations. If we could take a step back and ponder on it rationally, we would soon realize that most of the time, saying no is best for everyone.

Reason #1: Fear of Conflict

“I don’t want to hurt the relationships.”

“I don’t want to disappoint.”

We’re not comfortable having to come up with excuses and justifying to others why we say no or we don’t want to hurt others’ feelings or disappoint them. We want to please and make others feel good. How about our own feelings?

I once said yes to help a friend with her project. I stayed up late at night and sacrificed my weekend to do so only to find out she was spending the weekend shopping and watching movies. While I initially worried about hurting her feelings, my feelings were then hurt.

Reason #2: Feeling Obligated

“The person has helped me in the past and I feel obliged to return the favour.”

“I don’t want to be seen as disobedient not helping my parents.”

 I almost never ask anyone for help and most likely to reject help because I don’t want to be pressured by the obligations to return the favours. I hate feeling like I owe someone something. But that’s just me. It’s all in my head because family and friends who have helped me NEVER did expect anything in return.

If there was a prior agreement or stated qui pro quo between you and the person who have helped you, then by all means, honour it. If there was none, you shouldn’t feel the obligation to return the favour like I do. 

Reason #3: Fear of being Judged

“I don’t want to be selfish.”

Some people are naturally assertive and blunt, they have no difficulty whatsoever in saying no if it doesn’t serve any purpose to them. However, most of us are afraid that we’ll be judged as being selfish and unhelpful if we say no.

My mentors and coaches have always use the oxygen mask analogy on me whenever I get into the mode of sacrificing my own needs for others. If you fly often, you probably can recite the safety warning before take-off. It says that you should put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you help others in the event of low cabin pressure. This is simply because that you’re not going to be able to help others if you’re unconscious. There you go! Help yourself first.

Reason #4: Fear of Missing Out

“The business opportunity might earn me a lot of money.”

“I’m going to miss out the fun.”

You really don’t have any control over opportunities, really. There’s no way you can tell whether a business idea or a proposal will generate a profitable return. If it’s something that interests you enough for you to commit, then say yes. Otherwise, don’t say yes just because you’re afraid that you might miss out on “striking a lottery” in the business. There are tons of other opportunities that can be lucrative.

As for social gatherings that you’re so afraid of missing out the fun, then you need to ask yourself what you would rather be doing. Do you prefer to hang out with your friends or rather be reading a book at home? Would you rather stay sober or be pissed drunk? Do you have other priorities to handle?

Reason #5: Desire to be Heroic or Unique

“No one else is willing to help.”

“I’m the only one who can do it.”

Oh, don’t we all want to be a hero to someone? We want to be the resourceful and responsible ones that everyone could rely on. But the truth is, we can’t please everyone. When everyone wants something from you, you’ll be so used up you’ll be left with nothing to give. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Why We Should Say No

  • Time is precious: If we constantly say yes to every requests that come our way, we become the biggest thief of our own time. Time is a scarce resource and in fact, we can’t earn back the time we wasted. Therefore, we need to think twice before we give away our time to things and people that aren’t important. On top of that, when we’re too generous with our time, some opportunists out there will take advantage of it.
  • Taking control of your life: Don’t let others steer you to wherever they want you to go. You’ll one day wake up only to realize that all your life, you’ve been letting others steer your wheels. It’s a matter of time before you become this bitter person who doesn’t find joy in the life you don’t control.
  • Don’t let others take advantage of you: Sometimes it can feel like you’re a doormat being stepped on when you keep letting people tell you what to do. I did feel like one whenever I couldn’t say no to people who were so obviously taking me for granted. For the sake of your self-esteem and confidence, say no and walk away.
  • You might do more harm when you help: Helping others out might look like a noble thing to do but at times, it can also harm them in the long run. They would never get the opportunity to learn and grow if you’re constantly there to hold their hands. You need to let them make their mistakes and learn their lessons or you’re crippling them by not letting them grow.

Stop Saying Yes

How to Say No

To be able to say no, you need to understand and accept that saying no is okay. You can use an indirect approach or direct approach. It doesn’t matter how you say it as long as you remain polite and be firm.

Keep it Sweet and Simple

Keep it short and don’t drag on with reasons after reasons. If you’re asked to do something, you can say “I’m sorry I won’t be able to help you as I have other priorities.” If you’re offered something or invited to go somewhere, just thank them and tell them a simple “I’m not keen on that but thanks for asking.”

Don’t Respond Too Quickly

If you’re not interested, there’s no reason to respond immediately anyway. Why let the requests or offers interrupt your day? Just go ahead and do what matters to you. The other person will get the message that you’re not too keen. Also, if you delay your responses, it will make you less accessible and thereby they will think that you’re busy anyway.

Offer Suggestions

If it’s not your task, say no and delegate it to the right person. If you’re busy, say no and suggest them to get help from someone else. If you don’t think you’re the best person to fulfil their request, say no and provide alternatives.

Request for Payment or Compensation

If you’re asked to do something that’s in your line of work, you need to be compensated. I feel like a hypocrite saying this because there were many times that I offered pro bono work. However, it went on to the extent that it affected my business revenue. As mentioned earlier in the post, I turned down paying clients to work on things that I don’t get paid for. Please don’t be like me. Charge for it, request for a meal, state a quid pro quo or anything to ensure you’re compensated in one way or another.


Those are ways I learned in saying no. How about you? How do you say no? What’s the most difficult situation you’ve been put into? Please do share in the comment if you would like to share. I understand that it’s not easy to say no for some people. After many years, I’m still learning to stand my ground. Saying no is not a rejection towards that person, it’s about caring for yourself first. Unless it’s a life and death situation, you can always say no.