When And How To Say “No” by Cindy Stradling CSL, CPC

At work and home, people are taught to believe that saying “no” is bad. We often believe that saying “no” at work limits our ability to be recognized as a team player, a dedicated employee, or someone who can move up the corporate ladder.

In personal relationships, people may have difficulty saying “no” due to the messages they received from their own family. Individuals may be people-pleasers, codependents, or they may be highly conflict avoidant and say yes to prevent possible negative discussions if they say no.

In reality, saying no is a form of self-care. It is part of setting healthy boundaries and protecting our time and physical and mental energy. Often, saying yes is an impulsive reaction, and if we stop and think about the impact of saying yes, we will feel more comfortable in giving a no.

Learning the critical times to say no and how to say no gives us options. Listening to our inner voice about when to say no is a great place to start.

Feeling Overwhelmed or Uncomfortable with the Request

Saying no when you are uncomfortable or overwhelmed with the idea of doing one more thing is an excellent time to say no. Pushing beyond your capacity if you are already feeling overwhelmed will only lead to resentment and stress.

If the request crosses a personal boundary, saying no is the only way to avoid feeling pressured into something that will make you unhappy or uncomfortable. Keep in mind, the person making the request may not know your boundaries, and saying something like “Thanks for thinking of me, I am not able to participate” may not be seen as a negative or a rejection at all.

Too Much on Your Plate

Juggling personal and professional commitments can leave very limited time for taking on something else. Remember, your personal time is critical for your mental and physical health. Saying, “I have another commitment/obligation,” is a clear signal that you are not going to take on more.


Saying no based on your assumption that it would somehow hurt the other person or damage their opinion of you is likely a thought you hold and not something they are thinking.

Being asked to work longer hours, take on extra responsibilities, or do something outside of your area of expertise or competence should be a signal to say no. Saying, “I am not able to fit that in at this time,” is a clear, concise message.

Giving lengthy explanations about why you said no is not required or helpful. Staying clear in your message or asking for time to consider the option helps you to respond in a way that feels comfortable and respects your personal and professional boundaries.