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Getting comfortable with saying 'no'.

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

It is OK to say ‘no’

Why do so many of us struggle to say ‘no’? Many of us view saying ‘no’ as being rude, or letting others down. So much so, that when we fail to say ‘no’ we add additional pressure to ourselves, our already busy schedules and our lives. Our mouths say ‘yes’, whilst someone inside of us is also shouting ‘why the heck did you say that you idiot!!!’.

Lots of us are people pleasers so saying ‘no’ is something we’re out of the habit of doing. Along with feeling like we’d be disappointing others, or looking ‘bad’, there is a whole plethora of other reasons why we struggle to say ‘no’. It generally comes from a fear or worry of rejection.

If, deep down, you’re scared of rejection, or fear that you're not good enough, saying no can be a huge hurdle for you to overcome. You may worry that if you say ‘no’, no one will ask you again. Or if you say ‘no’, you’ll be seen to be unhelpful, unsociable, rude, difficult, strange, won’t succeed, achieve or be promoted.

But no doesn’t always mean no. No may also mean ‘Not right now’.

In a work context, I’ve feared saying ‘no’ because somewhere I’m worried that says ‘I can’t handle this job’, or it somehow demonstrates I’m an incompetent manager. But that means, I add pressure and stress onto my own plate. Alternatively, I could have said, ‘I can’t do that right now, but let me come back to you.’ or ‘when is the deadline on that so I can ensure I have planned properly?’.

Personally, I’ve struggled to say ‘no’ to a whole range of things for fear of letting other people down, or offending others - only to my own detriment. I’ve eaten cakes when I didn’t want to, I’ve attended things I have no interest in, I’ve stayed out later than I wanted to. Rather than knowing myself well enough to say ‘no’, I’ve gone along with things I really didn’t want to. I could have instead said ‘that looks amazing, you’re such a wonderful baker, but I’m not hungry right now.’. Or ‘I would love to get together but I’m already committed on that day, can we find another date?’. I’ve taught myself you don’t have to be rude to say ‘no’.

"By saying 'no', what are you saying 'yes' to?"

Go deeper

If this sounds all too familiar, and you’re someone who struggles to say ‘no’, consider those feelings a bit more. When it comes to saying ‘no’:

🔶 Are there patterns? Is it the same people you struggle to say no to? Is it everyone? Are there similar things/events/work/situations that you can’t say no to but wish you could?

🔶 When you notice you haven’t been able to say no, and straight away feel icky, what are those feelings? Where can you feel them?

🔶 What are you worried about? What scares you about saying no? What’s the worst that could happen? How true is that?

I encourage you to think about your relationship with ‘no’. It won’t change instantly, but you can become more comfortable with ‘no’. It takes practice so prepare yourself and start with something small and relatively safe.

Saying no doesn’t have to be harsh, you can communicate ‘no’ in a way that is still compassionate, loving, professional, caring, empathetic, but with a respectful boundary for yourself. I bet you know friends, family, colleagues who say no and I’d go even further to say that you respect their boundaries. If they can do it, so can you.


Gemma Brown is a certified coach who works with successful women, 1-2-1 and in groups, to identify their strengths and build confidence which enables them to have the self-belief to fearlessly bring their whole being into all areas of life. Gemma is based in Cambridgeshire and carries out face to face coaching in the area as well as 1-2-1 coaching via Skype and Zoom. For more about Gemma, visit her 'About' page or contact her directly.

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