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7 Ways to Say "No" Without Feeling Guilty

If people do say no, they usually do it in ineffective ways that come with an excuse. For example, they might say, "I'd like to help but I'm really busy". The problem with this approach is it gives the other person an opportunity to continue to ask. They feel they have an opening. "Since you're busy this week how about next week?"
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I recently received an email from an acquaintance asking if he could stay with me while visiting New York. Mind you, this was someone who I wasn't very close to and he has the means to book a hotel. I simply did not feel comfortable having him stay. I had three options: 1. I could say yes because I felt bad saying no and end up feeling miserable for saying yes 2. I could say no and maybe feel bad about saying it. 3. I could say no and not feel bad about saying it. I went with option three.

You might wonder how do you say no and not feel bad about it. To answer that, you must first understand why people feel bad saying no. Saying no may feel aggressive, like you're rejecting the person. Most people do not want to be an aggressor. There's a negative connotation to it. As a result, people usually go the path of least potential conflict and comply with others. If they don't they may feel like the bad guy or girl. They may feel they're letting the person down and feel guilty. Or they may even feel they won't be liked or will be perceived as uncaring and unhelpful.

If people do say no, they usually do it in ineffective ways that come with an excuse. For example, they might say, "I'd like to help but I'm really busy". The problem with this approach is it gives the other person an opportunity to continue to ask. They feel they have an opening. "Since you're busy this week how about next week?"

Here's how you can effectively say no:

  1. Say it. Don't beat around the bush or offer weak excuses or hem and haw. This only provides an opening for the other person. Don't delay or stall either. Provide a brief explanation if you feel you need to, however, don't feel compelled. The less said the better.

  • Be assertive and courteous. You might say, "I'm sorry I can't right now but will let you know when and if I can." This approach is polite, and puts you in a position of power by changing the dynamic. You're taking charge letting the person know you'll let them know when and if you can. Another example, "I appreciate you asking me for help but I'm stretched too thin right now to devote the time to be of quality help to you."
  • Understand peoples' tactics. Many people and organizations use manipulation techniques, whether knowingly or not, they're used. For example, think about when you get a solicitation for a donation to a charity and there are forced options "Would you like to donate 10, 20, 30 or X amount?" Another tactic: "Most people donate 20 - how much would you like to donate?" This relies on social pressure.
  • Set boundaries. People sometimes have a hard time saying "no" because they haven't taken the time to evaluate their relationships and understand their role within the relationship. When you truly understand the dynamic and your role, you won't feel as worried about the consequences of saying "no." You'll realize that your relationship is solid and can withstand you saying no.
  • Put the question back on person asking. This is highly effective in a work situation. Let's say a supervisor is asking you to take on several tasks - more than you can handle. You might say, "I'm happy to do X, Y and Z, however, I would need three weeks, rather than two, to do a good job. How would you like me to prioritize them?"
  • Be firm. If someone can't accept your no, then you know they probably aren't a true friend or don't respect you. Stand firm and don't feel compelled to give in just because they're uncomfortable.
  • Be selfish. Put your needs first. Not theirs. If you prioritize theirs over yours, you'll find your productivity will suffer and resentment will mount. Perhaps we can learn from Warren Buffett who said, "The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say 'no' to almost everything."
  • To learn more effective ways to communicate and achieve success check out my book Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.