The Art of Assertiveness: Learning to Say No

November 17, 2010 Theresa Fung

Most of us have been programmed to say ‘yes’ since childhood. When someone asked you to do something, especially a grown-up, you knew you had better do it or there would be serious consequences, mister. That same frame of mind has carried over into adulthood with many people dreading the word ‘no’ because we want to please people, be polite, and be seen in a positive light.

Saying No - The Unlocked Life

Unfortunately, always saying ‘yes’ to attending social events, taking on new projects, or volunteering our time is not always feasible, nor is it even healthy. If someone were to ask you to list one thing you wish you had more of, many of us would probably want more free time (that and a stash of money wouldn’t hurt either). So let’s start reclaiming the little precious free time we have after work and family obligations, and start learning to say no to things we don’t want to do.

Tips for Saying ‘No’

  • Practice makes perfect. Try saying ‘no’ in different ways until you’ve found a way that suits you and feels comfortable. When the opportunity presents itself, you’ll be able to say no without fumbling for a lame excuse, or worse, end up saying yes.
  • Be firm but polite. You don’t need to worry about looking like a jerk if you say no with a smile. Often people will apologize, but there is no need to say sorry for protecting your personal time and setting boundaries. You could say something like, “I would love to help you out, but unfortunately my schedule is packed next week and I wouldn’t want to commit to anything I couldn’t fulfill.”
  • Make a list to prioritize things in your life that are most important to you. Then make a list of things that are taking up the majority of your time. This helps you see where these time ‘suckers’ are coming from (is it work, or trivial social events?). Life is much too short to please others all the time; make a plan to spend more time on the areas in your life that are most important.
  • Don’t feel pressured to respond right away. If someone asks you to do something that may be of interest to you, you can always say, “Let me check my calendar and I’ll get back to you.” This buys you some time to consider the request in more detail and evaluate if this is something you really can, or want to do. If you decide to turn down the request, you could say something like, “I don’t have time at the moment, but please check back later with me.”
  • Ask for help if you need it. Maybe you want to help with something, but don’t want to do the task entirely by yourself. Say something like, “I can do __, but I will need help with __.”

Things to Keep in Mind About Saying 'No':

  • Don’t undervalue your time. Your time is a finite resource and you have the right to determine how you will spend it whether it is on work, leisure or with family and friends.
  • If you always say ‘yes’ then people will come to assume you will say yes again in the future and feel comfortable asking you for favors.
  • Saying ‘yes’ all the time will bring upon stress and resentment; you will be stretching your limits while getting upset at yourself for accepting the new task and perhaps resentful towards the person who asked something of you in the first place.
  • Anybody can say yes, it takes a stronger person to say no.

There’s a Chinese proverb which says, “One cannot manage too many affairs: like pumpkins in the water, one pops up while you try to hold down the other.” Focusing our time and energy on a few priorities at a time rather than spreading ourselves too thin allows us to do a better job and spend more time doing the things that make life great.

APA Reference
Fung, T. (2010, November 17). The Art of Assertiveness: Learning to Say No, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 17 from

Author: Theresa Fung

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