Communication & Confidence.
Saying No: A beginner’s guide
Saying No: A beginner’s guide

Saying No: A beginner’s guide

No, non, nada, nyet—how we say no in different languages. Nein is the German word for no. Nein sounds the same as the English word nine, which means one less than 10. According to researchers, nine is also the number of times kids expect to ask their parents for something before getting it. Nine.

Can I get it Ma? Can I? Can I huh? Please? Please can I get it? Puleeease?… and so on

Why are kids willing to keep asking for so long?

That’s a great question with a simple answer: Because it works. Kids are smart; they’ll try something once or twice and if it doesn’t work probably not do it again. If kids repeat a behavior, it’s because it worked in the past. They’ve learned that a parental no means maybe and eventually becomes yes.

If you’re a parent who’s mastered the art of saying no, your life is already calmer and more enjoyable. But saying no is a vital skill for everybody. Each one of us—and all of us collectively—benefit from effective no-saying.

I had few such skills—my shyness and English upbringing did not teach or encourage me to say no clearly and firmly. But it’s not just shy people and the English who don’t like to say no—most cultures do not like a direct, unequivocal no. And neuroscience supports this; the human brain is hardwired to respond to no more quickly, more intensely and more persistently than to yes. No is stronger than yes. This is called the brain’s negativity bias.

Humans don’t like to say no—it’s a negative event.

Since we don’t like to say or hear no we need to learn how to make our no’s heard and respected. This simple guide to saying no will benefit you immediately and for the rest of your life.

How to say “no” clearly, effectively and kindly

When to say no. Say no when:

  1. It aligns with your values.
  2. It protects you from abuse.
  3. It protects you from cheerful exploitation. (After you say yes to someone once, they will expect a yes every time they ask.)
  4. It allows you to maintain sufficient focus on your own goals.
  5. It’s the answer that gives you energy. (If you’re trying to make a decision, notice which answers give you energy and which deplete you.)

Four easy ways to say no are:

  1. No to giving you an answer right now. “I’m not sure. I’ll have to think about it / look at my calendar / check with sweetie. I’ll get back to you by Wednesday.”
  2. No to this but yes to that. “I can’t help you move, but would be happy to help you pack for an hour on Tuesday.”
  3. Not right now. “I’d love to meet you for drinks, but this month’s pretty full. Let’s talk again next month.
  4. And my favorite: “No thank you.”

The ABCs of saying no

When you’re saying no, try this three-part approach:

A is for Acknowledge: “It sounds like you need help with the bake sale.”

B is for Boundary: “I can bake a dozen cookies, but I won’t be at the sale.”

C is for Close: Close negotiations. Your no is final—there is no negotiation. You have clearly stated what you’re willing to do and that’s the end of it. You can change the subject, end the conversation, or leave the room.

That’s it. Easy huh? Now go practice saying no!