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7 Tips for saying NO

Published: February 25, 2011 | Last Updated: March 29, 2017 By | 20 Replies Continue Reading

Saying NO can unravel a friendship but sometimes there’s no way around it. Here are some tips for saying NO when you should.

My last blog post, Saying NO to a Friend Isn’t Easy, was in response to an email from a reader, who like many of us, has a hard time saying NO to a friend. Of course, when someone’s a true friend, as opposed to a frenemy, you want to help the person out, however and whenever you can. But sometimes requests are too frequent, over-the-top and inappropriate. So I wanted to follow up on that reader’s post and offer further tips for saying NO when you really need to:

1- Don’t wait until you’re fed up

Whether it’s spouse, lover or friend, when you squelch your feelings, you’re eventually going to explode. You can ignore little things but if your friend has really upset you or is grates on you by doing the same things repeatedly, don’t let ill feelings fester too long. Initiate a discussion about the problem when you’re calm and before you’ve built up resentment.

2- Don’t feel guilty. You can’t say yes to everything

Even the best of friends don’t always agree or see things eye to eye. Your friend may think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask a favor of you but you may feel otherwise. True friends have to be sensitive to each other’s feelings and be willing to accept NO for an answer when it’s reasonable. Sure, we all want to help out our friends and support them but if the personal cost of saying yes is too great, either morally or logistically, its okay to say NO.

3- If your friend can’t accept NO for an answer, recognize it as her problem not yours.

Some people are extremely self-centered and demanding, to the point of taking their friends (and others) for granted. Your friend may be overwhelmed by problems or just totally wrapped up in herself. This person may have a hard time accepting NO under any circumstances, particularly if she is accustomed to hearing you say yes. In this case, you need to be firm and not back down.

4- Carefully consider why you’ve decided to say NO

Saying NO always has ramifications for a relationship so mull over why you’ve decided to say NO and whether it’s appropriate. It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying NO to a reasonable request if someone has made too many unreasonable ones in the past. Examine each situation on a case-by-case basis.

5- Try to say NO as graciously as you can

Saying NO doesn’t have to come off harsh and can actually be couched in some tender terms to help soften the blow. You might say, “I wish I could but” or “I really can’t because…” Providing a reasonable explanation of why you’re saying NO always helps the other person understand your decision.

6- When you’re both relaxed, talk about limits and boundaries in friendships

Even the best of friendships require minor tune-ups to remain vital. Good friends need to be able to communicate regularly to make sure the relationship works for both people. If you feel your boundaries are being violated, it’s better to talk about it before it becomes explosive.

7- If you are unable to say NO, even when you want to, find out what’s holding you back

Some people are unable to say NO because their need to be liked is so great and their self-confidence is so lacking. If you have this problem and it’s interfering with your relationships-personal or professional-you may want to speak to a counselor, coach, or mental health professional who can help you better understand the problem and address it.

What are some of the hardest times you’ve had turning a friend down and simply saying NO?
Some other thoughts on The Friendship Blog about saying NO:

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Category: KEEPING FRIENDS, one-sided friendships

Comments (20)

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  1. Catherine says:

    It is kind of disheartening to read some of the situations that all of you have been asked to take on. We all have needs and wants, and I am at a point in life where I try to focus on needs. Recently, a friend has asked to store one if her three cars in my garage; otherwise, she will have to pay hundreds of dollars a month to rent car storage. I really don’t want to do it, but feel that if I say no, she will be angry. If I do say yes, I will resent the car being in my garage. This seems so small compared to being asked to provide health care or a taxi service.

  2. Nichoel says:

    My husbands good friend ask us to care give for her 100 year old husband that has dementia. My husband said yes without notifying me. He was told it was a family emergency. It’s was the two most exhausting weeks of my life, her husband could not be left alone for any amount of time which amounted to 24 hour care. I really resent the whole episode as she has family in the area but instead of asking one of them she ask my husband and he caved. She has plenty of money and if her family wasn’t available which they were she had the option to call a agency. She did not want strangers in her house she said hogwash! This really changed the whole dynamic of my relationship to this family although I never said so. Also, my husband and I were at each other’s throats because we had no down time every time we called her family to try and get a couple hour escape they always had other plans. I feel it is one of the ruddiest things that has ever happened to me I am very active and I had to put my whole life on hold for two solid weeks for a total stranger. Maybe I’m selfish but I consider myself a very giving and caring person, I thought this was totally inappropriate behavior.

  3. Jennifer says:

    My Best Friend has just put an invitation for her (15th) birthday party up on FB. She goes to a different school than me now and some of the people from her school that are going are questionable with the types of behaviors that could be going on. I went to her party last year (the first year she went to that school) and even then some things happened which i felt really uncomfortable with. Other factors too are just making me feel really uncomfortable with going, but I know when I tell her I don’t want to go, shes not going to understand and get really upset. There are a few others of my best friends, including my boyfriend who said that they also don’t want to go. I love her so much, and I want to be able to celebrate with her but I just don’t want to be put in a type of situation like that.

    What should I do??

  4. Arlene says:

    Not all of this is true, but great advice anyway. I’ll take from it what works. Thank you. 🙂

  5. Pam says:

    This is good advice! I’m now ignoring a text and a phone call from an “friend” that I said a very reasonable “no” to for an event tomorrow. Now she’s invited my entire family (who are beginning to see how she would take up every second of my time if she could) . It’s obvious that she wants us to attend either because she needs a ride, and knows that I’ve told her that the weekends are my family times, or because the event needs a certain number of attendees to go on. She assumes asking my entire family will get me to say yes. As her texts and constant calls are coming in, I’m in the middle of watching a movie with my husband and instead of enjoying it, I’m stressing because she won’t leave me alone. I really do care about this friend and I’ve done A LOT for her–I’ve done favors that no one would want to do, but a lot is obviously not enough and my no isn’t respected.
    I plan to use this advice to re-assert my “no” on my own time for a change.

  6. Anonymous says:

    To those of you who were SO offended by the slanting of coverage given to saying NO—ummm, read the title—which infers that the decision to say no has already been made; the reasons / circumstances are not the article’s intended subject matter.

    And, “annoying friends” — you took the words right out of my head…I, too, have given up trying to provide reasons to these types of people once their responses make clear they couldn’t care less about my circumstances—which makes it MUCH easier to give them a clear & concise NO. Their lack of concern for me demonstrates the type of “friend” they are.

    • Jill says:

      I got some advice from my counselor on saying NO to friends. She told me that you didn’t need an explaination or reason for saying NO. No means no and that should be the end of it.

  7. Anonymous says:

    You have good writing 🙂 thank you for sharing your story and your wisdom that you have gained from going through this experience.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Good point about saying yes.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Saying no is certainly your progative, but not if you are a real friend who is saying no to a friend to you for decades. It is not always the right decision.to be so flip and tell someone “I’m busy, I’m heading out” and doesn’t have time to pick you up from a train, 5 minutes from their house to drive you 5 minutes, that’s just plain rude and certainly not a friend.
    Nothing is black and white and this blog is slanted in a way that “ever” asking for a favor is out of line. I sure hope none of you never needs a favor!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Saying no is certainly your progative, but not if you are a real friend who is saying no to a friend of yours for over a decade. It is not always the right decision.to be so flip and tell someone “I’m busy, I’m heading out” and doesn’t have time to pick you up from a train, 5 minutes from their house to drive you 5 minutes, that’s just plain rude and certainly not a friend.
    Nothing is black and white and this blog is slanted in a way that “ever” asking for a favor is out of line and saying no should be the way to go to avoid being inconvenienced.

  11. Anonymous says:

    How about saying no to a life long, good friend, who asks for a favor once a decade! Do you think you have the right to say no then? Especially when the favor involves an hour of your time and if the request is for the next two to three weeks? My request was for a 10 minute ride from my friends house to pick me up at the train station and drive me 5 miles and catch up with an hour of coffee and conversation before heading off to see a relative.
    Do you think the friend asking for a quick ride and a cup of coffee should be told “I’m busy, I’m heading out, I need to be alone”! Is that right? There is a time when someone asks too much and there is a time when one favor should not be inconvenience!. This blog sounds totally black and white and selfish, it isn’t a matter of your right to say no if your friend has a request every decade if not more. There times when saying no is just a way of being selfish and having I really don’t give a dam about your needs anyway that is just plain wrong.

  12. waterwisegroup says:

    Hey friend thanks for sharing these tips I liked these ones. I think we can use what you have mentioned here also but nature of opposite person also matters in this case as sometimes saying no with no harsh sentences but then also other will act unexpected way because i have also experienced this condition. Anyways hope these tips will help us in future relationships also.

  13. Irene says:

    Thanks for adding such thoughtful comments. In the end, these are difficult situations and everyone has to find their own way—one that feels both comfortable and authentic to them.

    I’m glad that you read this blog and took the time to contribute your advice.


    Best, Irene


  14. Mara says:

    Great tips, but I disagree with providing an explanation – which is usually an excuse for “I don’t want to.” I have started to go by the “don’t complain and don’t explain” mantra when saying no. I found that way too often the self-centered person I was saying no to would just start coming up with solutions and alternative for ways I *could* still do what they wanted instead of getting that I just had no desire to do something and being respectful of that. Many explanations are just face-saving excuses for the real reason you don’t want to do something.

    I also hated the way I would sound to myself – like a victim explaining my reasons – “I can’t, I have a headache.” “No, my boss is making me work late tonight.” “Sorry, I had a really really stressful week.” Or my less dramatic excuses never sounded to them like a valid enough reason to say no. When who are they to decide what is valid enough or not. So now I just stick to firm answers, “I won’t be able to make it” “It’s not a good night for me” “I have other plans” – all true responses and I don’t offer further information. I try to take a pleasant, but assertive approach and make the other person feel they are being invasive if the push for more. I also try to stay away from “I don’t have time.” Because the truth is we all usually have *some* discretionary time and the reality is I don’t want to spend it on whatever the “friend” is asking, pressuring, or being demanding. If I want to do something, I have free will and say yes. If I don’t want to, I don’t think it is selfish to want to own your own time. I *always* thank for an invite, but I never apologize in saying no. Personally I think it is rude to demand of anyone else’s free time. I spent too many years getting sucked into plans or visits or flaking out at the last minute b/c I had said yes under pressure.

    And be firm – because I have also found some people treat you like a slot machine and this is the thing I need to work on. If you say yes every eleventh time they ask for something, they are going to keep asking and asking hoping that the next time is the payoff. If you show you are the friend who is NEVER going to get sucked in, they will eventually stop coming around and pressing their luck and will start pestering someone else who might give once and a while.

    *As a disclaimer, I am not talking abot give and take friendships – I’m talking about dealing with the “friend” who ignores social cues of “I don’t want to do this” plans and favors and keeps pushing.

  15. Irene says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your story!



  16. Aja says:

    Well, a good friend of mine was having a housing issue, and some work related issues. In the end she ended up staying with us being my husband and I for three years. The living situation became more and more tense, and due to a work issue that left her out of employment for a year – I had to be firm and ask her to leave.

    Naturally, as we have essentially spoiled her she was incredibly resistant to leaving, becoming passive aggressive and displaying childish behaviour, but I have finally after 3 years of indulgence stood firm. Whether we will be friends after this I have no idea at the moment, but for now the best situation is for her to leave.

    It is hard to make a decision that could potentially lose someone, but in the end if you value your self esteem and boundaries, whatever the losses – you have to decide whether you can continue to sacrifice yourself for the sake of a friend.

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