Yes, I Mean No! How to Say No Assertively

Yes, I Mean No! How to Say No Assertively

Do you find it hard, if not impossible sometimes, to refuse a request from someone?

For instance, someone asks you to donate to a charity you don’t even believe in, or serve on committee you’re not interested in, or let’s say a nice person asks you out for the evening but you don’t want to go…and you still say OK? Ack!

“But I can’t say no!” I hear you cry. Yes, you can. Of course you can. You just want to know how to say it, without causing offense, disapproval, or upsetting someone.

The problem is you end up doing things that bring you no joy just in order to please someone else, and you’re frustrated with yourself for not saying what you meant. Also, you’re overwhelmed and don’t have time to do the things you want to do.

If only you had some simple rules and phrases that would allow you to speak your mind in a clear and courteous manner. I’ve got them.

Here are 4 artfully assertive rules and phrases to help you just say no in a way that won’t cause offense or put you in the doghouse.

Rule #1

They have the right to ask; you have the right to refuse.

Don’t get mad because they asked, and don’t make them feel bad for asking.

If you don’t say no, it’s your fault, not theirs for asking. Own it. It’s totally up to you to control your own time and energy.

Rule #2

Always thank them for asking and express appreciation for any polite request.

“Thanks for asking, but that’s not really my thing. I’m going to say ‘no’.”

“Thanks for asking, but that’s not going to work for me. I’m just too busy right now.”

“I really can’t—sorry; I’ve got too much on my plate right now.”

 Rule #3

Don’t over apologize, don’t over explain, don’t make excuses, and don’t get defensive.

They have the right to ask, but they don’t have the right to elaborate explanations or apologies. For the sake of politeness a short sorry, followed by a brief reason, (see above examples, Rule #2) will suffice. You don’t have to justify your decision.

The general rule that keeps me out of trouble is a short ‘sorry’, followed by a brief explanation, combined with a pleasant expression.


Rule #4

Zip it!

Once you’ve said no, don’t repeat yourself, or start apologizing, adding to your story, or yammering away trying to justify yourself. Just be quiet, hold your nerve, and carry on as before. If you have been courteous, then you have nothing to explain.

If you are not awkward, they won’t be. Trust me on this.

Remember these 4 rules next time you are asked for something you don’t feel comfortable with. Honor their right to ask and yours to refuse. Try out these phrases. All my sentences, rules and suggestions are tried and beta tested.

I think you will be delighted with how magically well they work.

If this subject is interesting and relevant to you, there is lots more to enjoy in my book, Artful Assertiveness Skills for Women, available online in Kindle and paperback; if you live in San Miguel, it’s for sale in the Biblioteca bookstore. This easy to read, clear, fun, and concise book could help you in ways you can’t even imagine.

I’d love to hear of your successes! Contact me at and look out for workshops and practice groups on this and similar life coaching subjects.


Personal Boundaries! What Are They  and Why Are They Important?

Personal Boundaries! What Are They and Why Are They Important?

A boundary is a border, outer limit, or perimeter: an enclosure or fortification.

A personal boundary is a metaphorical term to describe your emotional borders—what makes you feel comfortable or uncomfortable around others, and how you react to this discomfort.

“Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. Essential life skills

We usually refer to someone’s boundaries as weak or strong. “Oh, she has really strong boundaries. Nobody messes with her!” Or we might say, “Her boundaries are weak and she doesn’t enforce them. She lets him walk all over her.”

We also know when someone has trespassed our boundaries. It feels awkward, uncomfortable, confusing, and we have a sense of being violated.

Having strong boundaries is crucial to your emotional safety. You need your boundaries to be strong enough to protect your feelings and sensibilities—your sense of what’s right and wrong and whether you are receiving the respect and validation you feel you deserve.

I like to think of a boundary as a kind of psychological fence I have around myself. It’s there to protect me. I want the fence high and strong enough to keep bad stuff out of my life, but not so high I keep everyone out and become isolated. We all know people who ‘won’t let anyone in’, or who don’t let anyone get close to them. Most of us don’t want that. That’s boundary imbalance.

Personal Boundaries

If your fences are too high and strong and you enforce them too vigorously, you can appear arrogant, intolerant, scary, and rigid. Or you might come across as overly sensitive and thin-skinned. And you may end up alone because nobody can get in.

It’s all about balance.

Different Folks, Different Strokes—Our Boundaries Vary

And here’s another observation; we have different boundaries with everyone we have contact with. Your boundaries will be different with someone you meet on the street, or at a charity boardroom meeting, than with your children and friends.

However—take care! We may have different boundaries with different people, but we should always respect the boundaries of others, no matter who they are.

I have some friends who can say almost anything to me and I won’t take offense. I know them and trust them. Ditto with my grown up kids. I let them in very close. On the other hand, as their mother, I’m careful to respect their boundaries and I try not to interfere in their lives or give unsolicited advice. I want them to like having me around, and unsolicited advice will guarantee that won’t happen.

Personal Boundaries - don't trample other's!

Marriages and relationships more than not break down because of boundary violations. Someone feels disrespected; it festers and causes resentment.

I cannot tell you how many clients and friends I know, who complain that their relationships with children and other family members are not good. This causes a lot of unnecessary heartache and grief.

On close questioning and examination, it becomes clear that what is going wrong has to do with differing expectations about boundaries. Just because it’s your child—who is now a fully-fledged adult—it doesn’t mean you have the right, or that it’s a good idea to criticize their choices or tell them how to live their lives. It won’t be appreciated.

It’s never a good idea to trample on anyone’s boundaries.

Criticism is the Ultimate Boundary Stomper

Don’t do it. Ever.

Even the most well-intentioned criticism is the act of passing judgment; censure; faultfinding.

I repeat: Don’t do it. Ever. Make it an ironclad rule in your life, and it will serve you well. Just like gossip, you will never regret NOT criticizing someone, but boy can you regret the careless negative remark that will dog both of you the rest of your days.

Nobody ever forgets criticism. It’s a fact of life.

On the other hand, when you help people feel good about themselves, the choices they are making, and how they are living their lives, they will want you around. You are strengthening their boundaries. We all like to feel good.

Excerpt from Artful Assertiveness Skills for Women: How to be Calm, Confident, & in Control by Margaret Nash, soon to be available on Kindle and in paperback.

Check out Margaret’s already published five star ranked self-help books.