How to say no without feeling guilty

How to say no … there is an art to it. Performance coach Bec Williams breaks it down and reassures us that guilt need not live here anymore. 

Sure, it was very last decade to #justsayyes to anything and work out the details later, but in an age of everyday superheroes, where we expect ourselves to multitask families, jobs, friends, endless personal admin lists and social demands, we often make the decision not to say ‘no’ to anything for fear of what others might think. We wouldn’t want to be labeled selfish or, worse, suffer from FOMO.

I recently talked to some friends about the art of saying no. Everyone agreed saying yes to the right things is awesome: you meet new people, have unexpected experiences, and, boy, do you feel great helping out someone who really appreciates it.

Letting go of ‘busy’

But let’s be honest, some of us quite like saying yes to everything because we feel needed. And sometimes, we love the story that we are so busy helping others, we don’t have time for ourselves. This story is great, except when you’re skipping meals, your health goals, family time, and rushing around at work trying to squeeze it all in. If this is you, can I cheekily suggest it’s worth considering what you’re getting from your I’m so busy story?

As cool and lovely as saying yes is, those of us looking for a calmer way of life need to learn to say no. And say no with conviction! If we don’t, we are draining ourselves of all our energy on tasks we don’t want to do and have nothing left in the tank for things we want to do. You become the reliable ‘yes’ parent, friend, sibling, offspring, local volunteer team of one. Not an ideal position to be in unless you want to be known as the parent baking 20 cakes for the school carnival/managing five junior football teams.

Saying ‘no thanks’ starts with a mindset change. It starts with putting your needs first. Take a look at your big picture—how is saying yes to so many activities, appointments, social events, overtime working out for you?

When you’re able to put your needs first and focus on your key goals, purpose, and values, saying no will be a heck of a lot easier. As Steve Jobs said, “Focus is about saying no”.

How to say no

Here are some ideas on how to say no:

  • Say no straight away if you know you’re not going to do it. Don’t procrastinate.
  • If you can’t help out at an event, politely decline but send through a helpful tip/article.
  • I love this option for an email reply: “Wow, great opportunity. Thanks for thinking of including my brains in the mix. I’m fully committed next week but I’d love to hear how it goes.”
  • No explanation required? No. You’re already committed elsewhere and you don’t need to justify it to anyone. If pushed for detail, explain you’re already fully booked.

Check out this four-part formula for saying no:

  1. Start with a compliment.
  2. Give your answer.
  3. Say thank you.
  4. Encourage the person.

If someone keeps asking over and over, reiterate how you keep promises to yourself/family and expect the same of them.

For the, ‘on second thoughts, I want to pull the pin’ dilemma, be polite, firm, and honest. Admit that on reflection you have over-committed without thinking through the consequences, you aren’t able to give 100% and, if you can, make suggestions for alternatives. No one is going to hold you to ransom for stepping out of a commitment.

A note on guilt

What about any guilt? Nobody has forced you to feel guilty—it’s self-generated. See the bigger picture where your time and energy are being poured into a greater purpose, and the guilt won’t ring in your ears quite so loudly.

So, when you next want to say no—just do it! And if your diary is fully stacked with extra commitments which aren’t serving you, and you’re feeling massively overwhelmed and under-excited, I think you know what you need to do next.

Written by Bec Williams. Bec is the owner of The You Project and a performance coach. Follow Bec

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin