The People-Pleaser’s Guide to Saying ‘No’

It just makes your skin crawl, doesn’t it?

That tiny two-letter word — ‘no’. It feels like rejection. Like being the bad friend. Like FOMO in its purest form. If you’re a people pleaser, this word is enough to send shivers down your spine.

Saying ‘no’ to people, places, and experiences that drain us of energy or use up valuable time is a completely necessary skill. No matter how yuck it feels at first, defending your time and your priorities is the only way to make moves towards the life you want.

Believe it or not, the word ‘no’ isn’t a bad one, and it doesn’t automatically turn people away from you for good. These are plenty of ways to say ‘no’ respectfully — and still actually mean it!

How to Say ‘No’ — and Mean It!

1. Create the habit

Saying ‘no’ to people will feel like a challenge at first, especially for recovering people-pleasers. But building the habit will in turn build your confidence in yourself. Practice saying ‘no’ to smaller things — anything that isn’t a good use of your time. Skip a coffee run so you can work on a project. Sit out a Happy Hour to put more time towards a goal. Say ‘no’ when the stakes are low and build your ability to defend your time. When the situations that really matter come around, you’ll feel mentally and emotionally prepared to make the right decision.

This isn’t to say you should become a ‘no’ person and close yourself off to any and all experiences. But get honest with yourself about where your time has been going and where you want it to be going in the future. If something doesn’t help you work towards the life you want, there’s probably no need for it in your day.

2. Pass it on

This tip is a happy medium for people-pleasers looking to take back their time. If someone is inviting you to something, it’s totally okay to say ‘no’ if you’re not feeling it. But you don’t have to leave them hanging! If you know someone else, perhaps a mutual friend who may be interested in what you’re being invited to, suggest your friend ask that person to accompany them instead.

Use the defense of your time to become the connector in your relationships. This way, your friends and loved ones don’t feel like they’ve been rejected. They can respect your need for time while still bringing a friend to the event!

3. Trust your gut

When the time comes for you to say ‘no,’ trust yourself. Avoid letting yourself question your right to say ‘no’ to others, and remember that your time is yours. If you feel in your gut that something is not a good use of that time, it’s important to acknowledge and believe that feeling.

Chronic people-pleasers tend to struggle with this. It’s easy to feel guilty or ashamed when we want time alone, but know this — everyone deserves to have control over their time. We are only given so much, and what we do with it matters each and every day. Using yours to create the life you want for yourself is nothing to feel guilty about. Own it.

4. Be wary of elaborating

A ‘no’ does not require a ‘because.’

Be cautious of getting roped into an unnecessary explanation — you don’t owe anyone an excuse for how you use your time. If someone is unhappy with your use of ‘no’ or ‘no, thank you’ as complete sentences, remember to trust your gut. Tell them ‘no,’ and if you feel it, offer a ‘maybe next time’ as not to leave them hanging.

Spending time on an ‘acceptable’ explanation is a secret search for external approval. No matter what, you do not owe anyone an explanation for what you will be doing outside of the plans they have made, and they do not have to approve of the plans you’ve made for yourself. Say ‘no, thank you,’ move on, and be confident in your right to guard your priorities.

5. If it’s a ‘no’, say ‘no

‘Maybe,’ ‘I don’t think so,’ and ‘I’ll let you know’ are statements that leave way too many options open. This is when you are most likely to get talked into the things you don’t actually want to do. If you don’t want to do something, say ‘no’ and mean it. Instead of beating around the bush, use the actual word — again, ‘no’ isn’t inherently rude or mean. It’s honest, it’s assertive, and it’s the word you must be comfortable with in order to defend your time.

True friends understand the need for space sometimes. If people argue or belittle you, show them the door. Cut out the negativity and move forward towards the life you want.


QOTD: What do you most often have trouble saying ‘no’ to?

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comments +

  1. I confess that I have struggled with saying no to people, especially my loved ones. It is a work in progress but I feel better at steps I have taken so far. These are great tips.

  2. Definitely one of the hardest things to do, especially for a people-pleaser such as myself. I’m definitely working on the habit and also on the “because” portion… Thank you for this!

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