Saying NO is one of the most important aspects of living a life filled with balance, integrity, and authenticity! Being able to say NO with confidence and sincerity is one of the most important aspects of creating peace and power in our lives. By doing so, we create healthy boundaries while honoring ourselves and just being real.

But it’s not easy saying NO! It so often denotes negativity which is a chronic attitude that can sap the energy out of others. Think of it this way – Where negativity is an ongoing attitude, NO is a moment of clear choice. It signifies, “This is who I am; this is what I value; this is what I will and will not do; this is how I will choose to act.”

No is either self-directed or directed towards others. If self-directed, it can save you from your own self-destructive impulses, allowing you to better govern your life and your body. That kind of NO is what we might call self-discipline. We’ve all been forced to say NO to destructive temptations at least once, and likely multiple, times in our lives. And if you haven’t, you’re just not human!!

Saying NO to others is quite another issue. Though I’ve never been blessed with children of my own, I’m told by so many parents that rating right up there with “Mama” and “Dada” as very first words spoken is NOOOOOOOO! The word rolls off the tongue of a two-year old much easier than “yes” does. It may be cute during those young years, but then maturity takes hold. Saying “yes” becomes the better response to achieve acceptance and approval from society.

Let’s delve into some very real examples that can stifle us if we continue to say “yes” and discover ways that you can say NO. Here are four fictional situations showing the benefit of saying NO.

Situation: Phil loves being recognized as the “go-to” guy by all of his buddies. Good buddy John asked Phil to lie and provide an alibi for John’s clandestine activity. What should Phil do?

Suggestion: Hard as it is, Phil should firmly say NO explaining that he can’t condone John’s deception. Likely, it will ding the friendship a bit, but in the end Phil likes himself by standing firm to his own values. And, very likely, John will come back around, respecting Phil for his position.

When it protects you from cheerful exploitation by others.

Situation: Beth is a super star and well-liked by management and fellow colleagues. How can she be efficient in all that she does? Because she has Janie who is a worker bee and has Janie do all the work that she is able to take credit for. Of course, Janie resents being used and not being given credit for her efforts, but she continues to acquiesce to Beth’s continuous requests.

Suggestion: Finally, Janie pays attention to her own feeling of being taken advantage of. Beth cheerfully asks her again for a favor of completing yet another project, and Janie boldly, but nicely, replies, “NO, I’m just not comfortable with that.” That response earned Janie an icy reception for a couple of weeks, but it soon passed.

When it keeps you focused on your own goals.

Situation: Sara was friendly and popular in her company. She was regularly sought out for advice and asked to lend a shoulder by her colleagues. Then Sara was criticized by her boss for being too chatty and not performing up to par. Was it her fault that Betsy’s mother was dying of cancer and she needed someone to talk to or that Eric needed advice on how to increase his sales? Turning them away would hurt their feelings.

Suggestion: Beth has got to take control of her own agenda and keep her goals in mind.

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She must gently and empathetically say NO to these requests of her time, and ask that they visit with her outside the hours that she is expected to dedicate to her work.

When you need the strength to change course.

Situation: Pat was offered the “perfect” job, or so it seemed to the rest of world. The problem is that every morning he felt sick thinking about the impending job. Though it would yield him a considerable increase in salary and prestige, he knew in his gut it was not the right direction for him to take.

Suggestion: Pat recognized that taking the position was probably the “right” thing to do, but he also knew it would jeopardize happiness and quality of life. It would be so easy to take what he knew was the wrong path by saying “yes” to the position. Instead, he declined the job and said NO, feeling peace of mind that he had put his priorities first.

Regardless of how you look at it, NO is a tough word to use in many instances. Here are some softer and sweeter ways of alluding NO without actually saying it:

  • “Let me think about it.”
  • “I’m really not comfortable with that.”
  • “I’d prefer not…”
  • “I’d rather…”
  • “Let’s agree to disagree here.”
  • “That’s a good/nice/interesting plan, but I won’t be able to…”
  • “You are such a warm and charming person, but…”
  • “I have really enjoyed the time we’ve spent together…”

And finally, I’ll share my personal way of saying NO at this stage in my life and career. Let me first say that I have spent most of my years saying “yes” and will credit the experiences I’ve had by doing so as the foundation for the success and reputation I enjoy now. It has brought such a wonderful array of people into my life. Now, however, I have reached a pinnacle where I can say NO, but also offer an alternative. Rather than agreeing to serve as an event chair or board member, I offer to serve as an advisor. No longer do I revel in the recognition I sought in yester-years. Today I much prefer advising others on how they achieve their goals – and then celebrating their successes with them. That is now my ultimate pleasure in life!