Say Yes to Saying No


By Pooja Khajuria, Consultant


Did you say yes to the plan that you did not want to go to this weekend?

Did you say yes to extra tasks this week even though you didn’t have enough time for them, and ended up working longer hours?

Do you worry that you will be judged negatively for refusing additional work or saying no to plans even though you are burnt out?

Do you feel a sense of pride when you take on more obligations than others even though you are absolutely stretched for time?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you, just like me, are struggling to say no. People like us find it really challenging to set appropriate boundaries with our friends and colleagues and in the process overcommit; at the cost of burning ourselves out.

We hesitate to say no for a lot of reasons. Some of us suffer from the fear of missing out (“FOMO”), while some of us enjoy the thrill of that fast-paced, overworked life. Sometimes we just do not want to be seen as inept or inadequate to do something or worry that by refusing a plan we might disappoint the people around us. Whatever the reason may be, we simply fear saying no and, in the process, forget what effect it is having on our physical and mental health.

While I am not an expert in saying ‘no’ and still hesitate to do so in most instances, over time I have learnt two things – the power of a no and habits that help me practice saying it in real life.  

Saying no is both a tool and a barrier through which we can protect ourselves. It is a way to set a clear boundary that establishes who we are, what our priorities are and what we want to do or not want to do. While we love others, want to please them, and help them in every way possible, we need to strategically use our ‘noes’ to shape that space and limit ourselves from letting others encroach on it.

Here are a few habits I practice to build the confidence to say no:

  1. Remind myself that I am saying no to the request, NOT the person.

When a friend is inviting me for a party or a dinner that I do not want to go to, I always remind myself that I am not rejecting the company, I am simply declining the invite. You will be surprised to know how understanding people are in most cases, but for my peace of mind, I make sure I assure them very kindly that I would love to catch up with them, but I just won’t be able to make it at that particular occasion. Similarly, at the workplace, if you can’t accept a colleague’s request, along with saying no, appreciate them for trusting you to help them with it.

  1. Don’t fear missing out!

I struggle with this the most. I hate to miss an opportunity and saying no always results in missing something. But I now take a moment to remind myself that when I am saying no to something I am saying yes to something else which is more valuable to me. For example, saying no to drinks after work because you want to go home and unwind after a long week at work. It is important to remind yourself that both of these are opportunities and that you are just picking one over the other.

  1. Pre-empting my no.

Sometimes people can be pushy, or some situations get too challenging to get out of. Therefore, establishing a pre-emptive no can be very useful. It will protect you from getting stuck in a situation that is hard to get out of. Let your manager know that you are focusing on multiple things this week and therefore will not have the capacity to take on any more tasks that may come up during the week.

  1. Respect other’s noes.

Finally, it is important to respect when someone refuses your request or invitation. As a hesitant ‘refuser of requests’, I also struggle with dealing with other’s noes. However, I cannot expect others to appreciate my noes when I can’t reciprocate the same feeling. Therefore, over time I have learnt to welcome and understand people’s choices and that has given me a lot more confidence to say no myself.


While I am still in the very initial stages of my journey, I have realised that the benefits of saying no can be exceptional and pleasantly surprising!  I feel like I have a lot more control over what I am doing and no longer feel the sense of falsehood that I sometimes felt when I was doing things for the sake of it. I am also able to manage work better, produce quality work and take on tasks that I truly enjoy rather than getting caught in favours for others. Finally, it has also helped me focus more time on myself and the people I value.

Let us know if you too struggle to say no and the habits that you incorporate to change that.  




Photo by Canva

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Here’s your next read: an article on how to break up with your bad habits.

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