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How to Say Yes to Saying No

Is it hard for you to turn people down when they ask for a favor? Try these healthy ways to say “no.”

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Are you a people pleaser? Do you find it hard to turn someone down when they ask for a favor, even when your own schedule is out of control?

If so, maybe it’s time to do yourself a favor — and learn to say “no.”

Constantly doing things for others can leave too little time to take care of your own needs. You might even be losing precious time with family or friends. Overextending yourself can lead to stress and anxiety, which can take a toll on your health.

Here are five effective ways to say “no” to lessen the chances of feeling guilty or hurting a relationship.

1. Offer an alternative. "Perhaps we can have the picnic at the park instead of my backyard this year." Suggesting another solution shows that you care about the person and want to help, even if you can't do it yourself. Encourage others to step up and help out instead. Or provide the names of people who could do the work cheaply, such as high school students or college students who may need to do projects to complete community work requirements.

2. Put off your answer. "I'm not sure I'm free that day. Can I get back to you?" This is a good choice if you think you might actually want to do something, but first want to make sure you're not overextending yourself.

3. Offer to take on a lesser task. "I can't bake cookies for the sale, but I can make a sign to put up." This approach could be appropriate if you want to be involved, but not at the level asked of you.

4. Don’t decide alone. “I’d like to check with my [spouse/boss/friend] first. I’ll let you know in a few days.” Sometimes bouncing an idea off a trusted colleague or loved one can help you look at it from different perspectives. You might not see all the risks or benefits involved in saying “yes.”

5. Stay in the loop. “I’m afraid I can’t help this time, but feel free to check back with me at a later date.” This answer keeps the door open for saying “yes” at another time without burning any bridges.

Sometimes saying "no" isn't an option, or you may have a personal interest in helping. Learning when and what to say “no” to is important. There may be other alternatives to a flat-out “no.” Whatever you decide, take responsibility for your actions. Remember, if you’ve promised someone an answer at a later date, meet the deadline you agreed to.

By Ginny Greene, Contributing Editor

National Institute of Mental Health. Fact sheet on stress. Accessed: June 19, 2014. Stress management. How to reduce, prevent, and cope with stress. Accessed: June 19, 2014.
American Psychological Association. Just say no. Accessed: June 19, 2014.

Updated June 24, 2014