Learning how to say no and set boundaries will help you to protect and nurture yourself. Saying yes when you really need to say no can cause stress, burnout, bitterness, and resentment. If you are drained, have other plans, or just don’t want to say yes, you can learn how to say no without being steamrolled or intimidated.
Saying no is appropriate when it keeps you from stretching yourself too thin or protects your own time. Unless your sole reason for saying no is that you despise helping people, then saying no is NOT selfish. Learn how to say no and set boundaries for your own personal wellness, because you are worth it.
How to Say No Like You Mean It
What to Say.
It is so tempting to give a reason when saying “no” because you worry the other person will think you are awful or selfish for saying “no” for no reason at all. Providing an excuse simply gives others a chance to try to argue your decision in an attempt to change your mind, and makes it look like you might be open to solutions or negotiating.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t provide some context for your refusal. Here is what to say:
“No, I can’t.”
“I’d rather not.”
“No, I’m not able to.”
“No, I don’t have enough time right now.”
If it’s important to sugar coat it a little (with a colleague or professional contact, for example), you can add “Thank you for thinking of me” to the end, or offer to pass on some information or resources to them that might be helpful.
You could even suggest someone else they might ask for help instead! (evil chuckle)
Remember to keep it simple. Avoid excuses, give minimal context, and stay firm. You can do this.
Find the right words to say no without guilt. (Sample wording for refusing demands on your time, your money, and your sanity.)
How to Say It.
Saying no like you mean it is about more than just using the right words. Even when people are on the other side of the glass, or the sound is too low to understand on the video, you can still pick up tone, emotion, and relationship hits just from watching everything else their bodies are saying. You can tell when someone is serious and assertive, even without hearing their words.
More than Words
So much of what we communicate is nonverbal, and it’s important that we back up our words with all the other forms of communication at our disposal. Nonverbal communication includes posture, body movement, body orientation, head angle, eye contact, facial expression. And while we use our voice to speak the words, we can also control our speech volume, speed, and inflection.
Your Voice. Strengthen your message with a strong but even tone that doesn’t have too much inflection. Speak at a moderate volume–not too loud or too quiet. Practice not speaking too quickly or slowly, too, keeping a medium pace. Record yourself practicing and then play it back -you’ll pick up on details you might miss when you’re in the moment and you can work to correct them. Mastering the voice will be especially important when you have to say no and mean it on the phone instead of in person.
Your Head. Keep your head up and level, pointing your nose at their nose while making eye contact. Don’t let your gaze skitter away while you’re speaking, or you seem uncertain and undermine your message.
Your Body. Relax your shoulder and let your shoulder blades drop toward the floor, and don’t shrug your shoulders forward at all. Keep your hands loose by your sides and your hands relaxed. Face the other person fully, and make sure your feet are facing them, too. Often people’s feet are pointing in another direction, which can send the message of uncertainty, indifference, or discomfort.
Learn the best way to say no in an email, even to a good friend. There’s even a template provided.
What are Boundaries and Why Should I Have Them?
One of the best ways to protect your mental, emotional, and physical health is to set personal boundaries. Personal boundaries are the limits you set to protect yourself from being used, manipulated, or violated by others. They allow you to separate who you are (and what you feel and think) from the emotions and thoughts of others.
If you have a history of setting weak boundaries with others, it will be more difficult for you to create stronger boundaries now. But not impossible! Because of the expectations others now have of you, it will take time to prove to them that you mean what you say. Start with the people in your life you are most comfortable and confident with to practice your boundary setting. Once you have established your boundaries with them, you can move on to other relationships.
How to Set Boundaries
An assertive communication style is key to setting and maintaining strong personal boundaries. Assertive communications styles not only help set up and reinforce boundaries, but also help to manage conflict effectively and prevent escalation.
The foundation of assertive communication is the assertive “I statement.” Here are some examples.
“I’d rather not.”
“I would like to…”
“I need you to…”
“I feel upset when…”
These “I Statements” allow you to be direct in an assertive and non-threatening way. They won’t always get you what you want, but they’ll move you in the right direction. Consider these examples:
“I need you to look at me so I can tell you’re listening.”
“I feel upset when I trip over shoes when I walk in the door.”
“I would like to have a few minutes alone when I first get home.”
Warning—Avoid using “You Statements” that are simply “I Statements” in disguise. Do you recognize any of these?
“I feel upset when you’re an idiot!”
“I wish you’d go to hell!”
“I need you to shut up!”
“I would like to shove your head up your…”
Learning how to say no and set boundaries is important to protect yourself emotionally, mentally, and physically, and will reduce your stress levels and free up your time to do the activities that are most meaningful to you, allowing you to live a more authentic and content life. And that matters. You matter.
Remember to practice self-care as you work on this skill. It can be a bit of a roller-coaster, and if you start feeling overwhelmed I recommend finding a good counselor to help you make these challenging changes.
Do you have any stories or ideas about saying no and setting boundaries? Feel free to leave your comments below!