how to say no without feeling guilty

How to say no without feeling guilty

How to be more confident: say no without feeling guilty

“Saying yes, even if we really wanted to say no” is a disease that plagues almost everyone. At some point, we’ve all experienced a similar case. Saying no remains a psychological challenge. It is a source of discomfort, causing a stressful internal conflict. We sometimes experience remorse or guilt or even anger.

If we were raised under the value of contribution and help, it becomes even more challenging to refuse doing something. But we can’t please everyone.

Some people might take advantage when a person is “publicly known” as a yes-person, a people-pleaser, he who never refuses a favor.

I personally know a few friends who suffer because of their lack of self-assertiveness. Their colleagues always turn to them because they will not dare to refuse. Subsequently, these people are also the ones who suffer the most from a lack self-esteem and self-confidence.

It is then a priority for us to learn how to say no. We cannot live in seclusion but have to deal with other people, yes, even with the most cynical ones.

How to be more confident: Why is it difficult for us to say no?

As social creatures, we all have a craving to be pleased, to be loved. We fear rejection and do not want to disappoint others. Yes, we don’t want to hurt anybody. We even wear a social mask as we try to fit in our community. Welcome to the “disease to please” world.

When we say no, we feel that we lose face. A no is traditionally perceived as “negative”. A person saying no seems to lack empathy. We are labeled “selfish”, “egocentric”, “anti-social”.

We avoid any conflict at all costs. In this sense, we get embarrassed because we believe that our refusal makes us lose the favor and esteem of our social circle.

We can also use our service to others as a medium to gain more self-esteem. If you believe so, you think that your worth depends on other people’s validations. Your self-worth increases when you are nice to them and vice-versa.

But if we always say no and always prioritize other people’s needs, we forget ourselves. We must consider our needs as important too, even if they enter in conflict with other people’s interests.

What they think about us is none of our problems.


how to say no without feeling guilty


How to say no: Realize that we can be nice but still say no

Your value as a human being does not depend on the things you do for others. Saying “no” some of the time to some of the people will in no way diminish your value or worth in their eyes. It probably will enhance it.

As a human being, there is no correlation between what you do to others and your value. Sometimes, depending on the situation, saying “no” will not diminish your value; on the contrary, it will enhance it.

Technique 1 on how to say no: Buy time and postpone your answer

In Malagasy as I am from Madagascar, we say “Turn your tongue 7 times before you speak”, which simply means think before you utter any words. In this case, it is wiser not to respond immediately. You can use an array of pre-made sentences to gain some time:

–          I will need to check my calendar for a moment and will get back to you

–          I am not sure but let me check something first

–          I cannot give you an answer right now but I will get back to you as soon s possible

Once you bought some time, evaluate your options and choose wisely your answer depending on the consequences (short term or long term).

Technique 2 on how to say no: Propose an alternative

It is more diplomatic to propose an alternative rather than giving a plain “no”. For example, if you are invited for lunch, you cannot make it on the proposed date. You can still say “I have something planned on this day but I’ll be available tomorrow at noon”.

Another variant is to direct the person to another one who has similar abilities as yours. “I’m sure John can help you with this”.

Don’t over-explain

We can apologize very briefly but if we over explain, it gives the other chances to exploit what we just said. Your interlocutor may start discussing your arguments and persuade you to change your mind.

At the same time, you do not need to justify yourself, realize that you are a high-value person who doesn’t need other people’s validation. You are enough and you don’t need to over-explain why you said no. So do not over-explain and just say no without feeling guilty, firmly and assertively.

Explain by using “because” Robert Cialdini

In his book: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini explains that a request using the single word “because” has more chance to be fulfilled than the one without it. If you cut a line at a grocery store and ask for a favor, it is better to say “I am sorry, could I please go because I have something extremely urgent after”. Just by hearing “because” you have a higher chance to be excused. In the same way, when we say no, it is better to explain ourselves very briefly and use the word “because”.


how to say no


Technique 3 on how to say no without feeling guilty: Use the sandwich method

We learned the sandwich method at Toastmasters when giving feedback. We must insert a tiny suggestion for improvement between two positive feedbacks. This helps the speaker get more confident and not take your observation as a criticism. In a similar way, formulate your “no” between two positive statements.

If someone invites you to make a speech at their club but you can’t; for example you might say: “I am so grateful that you thought of me for this speech but unfortunately I already have something planned. Thank you again and I hope to see you soon.”

Technique 4 on how to say no without feeling guilty: Use the broken tape recorder technique

If you encounter resistance, you might find this technique extremely powerful. You repeat your answer like a broken tape recorder when the person insists. But be sure to acknowledge their feelings and use some emotional intelligence (make them feel that you put yourself in their shoes). For example:

–          I was wondering if you have time this weekend for a small favor. Actually, I wanted to organize a small reception at our church and I would need some hands.

–          I would need to check my agenda to be sure; can you wait a second please?

–          Sure

–          I might have a conflict so I will let you know in a few days if I can make it or not

–          Oh, I really need your answer now, please, tell me!

–          I can feel that you are really anxious but it is very possible I’ll have a conflict. Because I’m not sure yet, I’ll let you know in a few days.

Also, do not commit yourself in advance by saying: “I cannot make it this time but next time for sure, I promise”.


Being bullied in school


Being in a group and facing pressure

In this situation, it is extremely difficult to say no. We might directly experience the rejection. For this, we need to know our values and evaluate whether the group also cherishes those values or not. If they don’t, just change your group of friends or social circle. Doing otherwise is like committing a slow suicide. “We can’t change people around us but we can always change people around us”. This is to say that we cannot change who these people are (their character, their belief, their personality etc…) but we can choose to surround ourselves with other people having different values.


The benefits of saying no to some people in some situation without feeling guilty

–          We gain more self-confidence

–          We gain more self-assertiveness and self-esteem

–          We avoid embarrassing situations

–          We are known for who we really are and not who we are not

–          We are heard and respected

–          People will know that our “yes” is sincere


To know more about the topic, I invite you to read Harriet B. Braiker‘s book: “The Disease To Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome