How to Say “No” Without Feeling Guilty

One of the hardest little words to utter for anyone is “no” — especially when it comes to an extended invitation or wanting to be a part of a group gathering.

Still, whether you are talking about work, your personal life, taking on an added commitment for your child’s hockey team, or even trying to politely decline a charity request, there’s just something so difficult about rejecting any request. Despite the negative connotation around it, the truth is no one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings or have them feel discarded.

Having said that, learning the art of saying “no” without feeling an ounce of guilt is a must in today’s busy and fast-paced world. There are only 24 hours in each day, so declining that additional work project, invite to a party, or baking cookies for a child’s Valentine’s Day party at school just might save you from feeling completely overwhelmed. Placing too much on your plate — when it is overflowing as it is — just to appease another, only builds resentment on your part. Plus, it goes against something that many people need to prioritize — self-care.

While no one wants to disappoint anyone they love, care for, or work with, learning to say “no” is an important skill that we all need to embrace. Once you get past that hurdle, the next step is removing those remorseful feelings you have around saying “no”.

To help, below are some tips on how to relay this word without feeling any guilt.

No Excuses

When an excuse is added to a “no”, you present your time as a contest to the person who has extended an invite or need of assistance; a contest in which they have lost. Placing other plans or projects within your “no” rejection can sometimes make others feel as if they or what they need doesn’t make the cut in whatever else is going on in our world.

Sometimes, a simple “no” is the way to go to make both parties feel okay about the situation. The “no” is all about you and self-care, and less about them and what they have extended.

Thank Them

Saying sorry when rejecting a request of any kind can place negative connotations on the situation for both individuals involved. Saying, “I’m sorry” often means taking on some guilt for not accommodating a request. In general, we tend to apologize when we’ve done something wrong, whether that was unintentional or intentional.

Having said that, saying “no” to someone often has nothing to do with failing the other person. Therefore, it should not be relayed as such.

Instead, when something is presented to you and you cannot commit, try saying “thank you” before the no. Expressing your gratitude before you relay your “no” will make both you and the other person feel better. It allows them to realize you are grateful for the request and that they thought of you, but you won’t be able to participate. It helps both parties feel okay about the “no” aspect of the conversation, leaving the situation on a positive note.

Make Clear Boundaries

Outlining boundaries when you first enter a relationship — be it business, social, or otherwise — creates a solid foundation around expectations.

Outlining boundaries and expectations in all aspects of your life and relationships help to set up what others can expect from you moving forward. Doing so from the get-go of a relationship can help set precedence. It lets people know that when you say “no” to them and their requests that it’s a reflection of your own lifestyle and self-care and has nothing to do with them at all.

Don’t Budge

There’s nothing worse than committing to something and backing out of it at the last minute.

If you are invited to do something and you know realistically that you won’t be able to pull it off, then you should make it clear from the onset that it is a “no” and keep it there. Do not budge when it comes to something that is undoubtedly a “no” in your mind.

What’s even worse than canceling is trying to accommodate someone with a “yes”, only to float through the entire thing in a negative and begrudging way. If you know that going out on a Sunday night will conflict with other things scheduled that day, don’t compromise on the situation. A simple “no” is far better than over-extending yourself, providing a “no” at a later date, or last-minute cancellation.

Offer an Alternative

You don’t always just have to say “no” to someone and be done with the situation. If there is another way to accommodate that person when it comes to a request — something that can meet the needs of both you and the other party — then offering an alternative can create a powerful and positive impact.

While alternatives aren’t always plausible in every situation, if there is one that can be offered up in specific instances, then bring it forward. It not only helps ease that “no” for you and any guilt linked to it, but also helps with the other person involved.

Placing alternatives on the table creates a win-win situation for you and the other individual as well.

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