Saying no isn’t easy. Whatever the request, and whether it’s from a friend, family member, or professional contact, saying no can make you feel guilt and resentment. However, learning how to say no is a critical step to setting healthy boundaries and protecting your mental health

In this comprehensive guide, learn why saying no is healthy and how to harness the power of saying no in multiple scenarios. 

The Power of Saying No 

Why is saying no so hard? Maybe you consider yourself a people pleaser, or maybe you’re just used to putting others’ needs above your own. Either way, it’s a common challenge because most people don’t want to let others down—especially if they’re close friends or family.

However, saying no to requests and activities that drain you can be empowering, allowing you to prioritize your needs, guard your commitments, and feel more in control of your own life. 

Why Saying No Is Healthy 

Saying yes too often—especially when you don’t really want to say yes—can lead to resentment and strained relationships. Plus, by saying yes to other people’s requests, you often put your own needs on the backburner. By learning how to say no, you can more often say yes to your own desires and priorities

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Learning how to say no is an important step in protecting your mental health. 

Benefits of Saying No 

By saying no, you can:

  • Prioritize your feelings and needs 
  • Say yes to the things you really want to say yes to
  • Establish healthy boundaries in all of your relationships
  • Identify and address toxic relationships in your life

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Learning to Say No 

The most effective way to say no depends on the situation. Below, we explore a few common scenarios and provide tips for graciously saying no in each. 

How to Say No to Family 

Say a family member wants to borrow money, but you aren’t in a position to offer up a loan. Or maybe someone asks you to babysit or pet sit one weekend, but you have plans with friends—or you simply don’t want to. 

Family relationships are important, but it’s necessary to set appropriate boundaries. To learn how to say no to family members, follow these tips: 

  1. Be clear. Don’t say maybe when you really mean no. 
  2. Keep your explanation brief. Even though you’re saying no to family, don’t feel pressured to over-explain. 
  3. Offer an alternative if there’s one available.

Example: “That’s such a tough situation. I’m not in the position to lend you money right now, but I’m happy to put you in touch with my financial advisor—I’m sure she can provide some good advice.” 

How to Say No to Customers or Clients

If you work on a contract or freelance basis, there may come a time when you need to learn how to say no to clients. Maybe it’s a project you don’t think you’re suited for, your plate is already full, or what they’re asking for just isn’t possible. At the same time, you don’t want saying no to a customer to ruin the relationship you worked hard to establish. 

Whatever the reason, learning how to say no to a customer requires a tactful approach. Consider these tips for saying no to customers: 

  1. Be transparent about why you’re turning them down, whether the required turnaround is too quick or what they’re asking for isn’t feasible. 
  2. Offer an alternative. Maybe you refer them to someone else in your network, or you suggest a more appropriate timeline or price. 
  3. Stay connected. You never know when they may have another project or request. 

Example: “Thanks so much for thinking of me for this project. I’m currently booked through August, so I don’t have the bandwidth to take it on within the timeframe you specified. I’m happy to take this on if it can wait until September, or I can put you in touch with another graphic designer who has some room in his schedule.” 

How to Say No to Your Parents 

Growing up, you may not have been allowed to tell your parents no—but as an adult, there are certainly times when you may need to set boundaries. Maybe you don’t want to travel to see them for a holiday, or you don’t want to accept an unsolicited item they purchased for your house. Use these tips to respectfully decline: 

  1. Be gracious. As your parents, their actions are probably rooted in love—although it may not always seem that way.
  2. Use clear language, especially if you are saying no to elderly parents, so you can avoid any potential misunderstandings. 
  3. Keep it concise. Especially if you begin to feel guilty, it can be easy to ramble and over-explain. Simply let your no be no. 

Example: “Thanks for offering to host me for Sunday dinner. I already made plans with my friends here in the city, so I won’t be able to make it.” 

How to Say No to Your Boss

You might be wondering if it’s even possible to say no to your boss without risking your job or losing your reputation as a team player. But in certain circumstances, such as when you have too much on your plate to take on additional tasks, there are tactful and appropriate ways to say no. A respectful decline should include:

  1. A legitimate reason, such as competing deadlines or priorities. 
  2. An alternative solution. With a manager or boss, you shouldn’t end the conversation at “no.” Instead, offer another solution, such as shifting some of your work to a teammate to free up bandwidth. 
  3. Acknowledgment that the decision ultimately isn’t yours. While you can politely decline, recognize that it’s your boss’s call. 

Example: “Unfortunately, with the quarterly reports coming up, I don’t have a lot of extra bandwidth right now. While I understand that it’s ultimately your decision, I don’t feel comfortable that I could successfully take on that project. However, if this is a priority, can you help me reevaluate my current workload to see what I could shift?” 

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Learning how to say no to your boss can help you be happier at work. 

How to Say No to a Job Offer

Getting a job offer can be thrilling—but not every potential position is the right fit. Sometimes, saying no to a job offer can be the best step for your professional development. To gracefully decline a job offer, keep these tips in mind: 

  1. Don’t procrastinate. Notify the company as soon as you’ve made a decision. 
  2. Thank the interviewer and/or hiring manager for their time.
  3. Provide a brief reason. It doesn’t have to be specific, but it should be honest. 
  4. Offer to stay in touch. This ends the interaction on a positive note and can keep doors open down the line. 

Example: “Thank you so much for your time last week! I really enjoyed learning about the position and team, and I appreciate this generous offer. However, after much consideration, I’ve decided to pursue another opportunity. It was a pleasure getting to meet you, and I hope our paths cross in the future.” 

How to Say No to Friends and Peers

Saying no to your friends isn’t a bad thing—in fact, it’s an important part of a genuine friendship. Maybe a friend or acquaintance wants to stay with you while he’s in the city, but you’d prefer he get a hotel. Maybe your friends want to go out for happy hour, but you have a long run planned in the morning. Sometimes, even good friends can ask you to do something you’re uncomfortable with. Saying no to peer pressure as an adult is easier with these tips: 

  1. Be honest. You don’t have to offer a lengthy explanation, but provide a brief and truthful reason. 
  2. Be firm. Don’t allow room for misinterpretation with a wishy-washy answer. 
  3. Consider the friendship. If your friend doesn’t accept your no, it may be time to take a close look at your friendship. A true friend will accept your honesty, and your friendship may even grow stronger as a result. 

Example: “Unfortunately, I’m not up for hosting you this weekend. I’ve been really busy the past few weeks, and I need this weekend to reset and recharge. I’d love to get together for dinner one night while you’re in town, though.” 

Say Yes to Yourself

Whether you’re saying no to clients, parents, or friends, the conversation doesn’t have to lead to worry and guilt. With these tips, you can clearly and confidently say no—while prioritizing your own well-being. 

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