The gentle art of saying no

learn to say no

I’m getting better at saying no. I turned down two offers this week. For once, I put my own priorities and mental health first and I said two polite nos to opportunities that would have caused me heaps of stress.

The first was a voluntary position I would have liked to do, if I had time. I said a half-yes at first.

“Sounds great… I’ll think about it,” I smiled back.

I did think about it.

It clearly didn’t fit with my current family situation, workload, and non-existent free time. So I steeled myself to say a polite no.

And you know what? Nobody died.

say no

The second was a work opportunity. An idea that came up in an enthusiastic conversation. It had the potential to earn me some money, but it wasn’t something I would have enjoyed doing.

Again, I smiled and said it was a great idea. That I’d think about it.

Then I did think about it.

I thought about the amount of time it would take (3 days) and about the amount of money I could hope make from the enterprise (around £100, i.e. £33 a day).

It didn’t add up.

So today I said no.

Again, nobody died.

Both stories show that I am capable of saying no. But they show that I’m not very good at saying no straight away. If, like me, you struggle to say no to things that, deep down, you suspect you shouldn’t be saying yes to, these tips might help:


Your gut reaction is there for a reason, and it’s worth listening to. That feeling comes about when your brain has done a really quick reccy of all the memories and experiences associated with doing similar thing, and has come back with the message: don’t go there.

With the work opportunity, I knew straight away that it wasn’t something I wanted to do by the feeling in the pit of my stomach. There was not one part of that job that I would ever want to do.

Ever. Should have been a straight no.


If I’d listened to my gut reaction, I would have said a firm no straight away.

But I don’t like to make snap decisions. I can make them if I have to – I do it all the time as a parent. But my default is thinking things through and considering them properly. If I don’t have the time and space to do this, I tend to let myself get carried away by the energy of others. I’m also an optimist, always ready to get excited about new stuff, and a people pleaser.

Add those three qualities together, and I end up saying half yeses that other people hear as full-on commitment. This causes stress to myself, when I finally have to go back to say no; and disappointment to the person asking, who thought they’d got a yes.

So instead of stalling with a wishy washy “Sounds great, I’ll think about it”, I’m going to start saying a firmer (and less bouncy):

“This is going to take up a big chunk of my time. I’m not sure I can commit to that at the moment. I’ll have to think about it and get back to you.”

learn to say no


Fear of missing out is a very real part of being a human today. But you can’t do everything. Life isn’t a computer game, and you sure don’t get fifty points for every little golden hoop you jump through.

Time, money, energy – they’re all finite. Every time you say yes to something you don’t want to do, you’re saying no to the things you do want to do.

Ignore the FOMO. It’s just not helpful.


I like being nice. I don’t like upsetting people. But saying no doesn’t have to be apologetic. And it’s actually better for everyone if it isn’t.

You don’t need to apologise for not having the time or the brain space to do take anything else on. Seriously, you don’t need to say sorry for that. Saying no without saying sorry feels better. It makes you feel less, well, sorry.

So instead of: “I’m so sorry, I can’t do it. I’d love to, but I have too much work on. Maybe in a few months. Sorry.” – Cue listener’s second attempt at persuasion, followed by a firmer (more cringey) no from me.

Instead, I just said:

“I’ve thought about it and I can’t do it. I have too much other work on and I wouldn’t be able to give it the attention it needs.”

It felt good to be firm. It felt great not to apologise.

I’ll be doing it again.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *