Learning to Say “No”


I have a daughter whose first word was “no”. At the time, it rather startled me. My other kids’ first words were “dada” and “ball”. For this daughter, saying “no” as her first word was prophetic. Of all my kids, she is the one with the best boundaries.

What does learning to say “no” have to do with boundaries? Everything. “No” draws the boundary line between what I want and what others want from me. If I don’t know how to say no, my boundaries will be trampled. Of course, when dealing with abusers, they may not hear our no. But, whether another person is able to hear our no, the first step is for us to be able to say it.

On June 20, Leslie Vernick, a Christian counselor and blogger that I follow, sent out a newsletter that talked about learning to say no. Here is Leslie’s advice:

Do you have a hard time saying no? Many people find themselves saying “yes” when they want to or should say no. I have, and I know I’m not alone. Many people struggle with what the Bible calls “the fear of man” or what is also referred to as people pleasing tendencies.

Don’t get me wrong. Pleasing people can be positive. I’d much rather make you happy than sad, or mad. However, a healthy people pleaser can choose when to say yes and has no problem saying no when he or she needs to. In other words . . .

pleasing others is a choice, not a compulsion driven by fear. Tweet This

Sometimes we want to say no but we don’t know the right words to say. Saying no directly can sound cold, and it may feel harsh to some individuals.

I’d like to offer you ten quick ways you can say no without using the No word.

  1. I’d really like to but it won’t work out for me right now.
  2. I’m so sorry but my schedule just won’t allow it.
  3. Thank you so much for inviting me but I won’t be able to attend.
  4. Thank you so much for asking me but that won’t work for me.
  5. I can’t, I’m sorry.
  6. I won’t be able to do that. I’m sorry, perhaps another time.
  7. I have to cut down on some things in order to keep my life more balanced so I’m going to have to decline.
  8. If I say yes to this, I have to say no to some other things that are very important. I’m sorry but I can’t.
  9. Let me think about it. (This buys you time where you work up your courage to say one of the other forms of soft no.)
  10. I’d love to … but I can’t. (other variations – my schedule won’t allow it, or I have other plans, or I’ll have to take a rain check.)

Think of your own soft ways to say no. Jot them down.

Next, memorize at least two of these soft ways of saying “no” so that when you feel pressured to say yes, you will be ready. But understand this: sometimes when a person is used to you always giving in and saying yes, he or she might refuse to accept your soft no.

If so, here’s what you do next. Say your original sentence again. No apologies, no explanations. Do not further elaborate as to why you are saying no or it will invite discussion and sometimes an argument as to why your reason is not sufficient.

If the other person continues to pressure you by arguing against your no or tries to make you feel guilty for saying no, stop trying to get him or her to respect your first answer and address what this person doing. Here are some examples:

SOFT Response:

  • Excuse me, did you hear what I just said?
  • I’m confused, I’ve told you I can’t, why are you still asking me?

FIRMER Response:

  • What don’t you understand about what I said?
  • I said no, please don’t ask me again, I feel uncomfortable.

Learning to say no is not easy. You may physically struggle to get the word out of your mouth. If you are in an abusive relationship, saying no might put you in danger. You know your situation better than anyone. Is it safe for you to say no to your abuser? If not, don’t say no; protect yourself.

Start practicing saying no to easier people. When a telemarketer calls your house asking for a donation for a cause you don’t support, practice saying no. When a cute little girl scout comes to your door asking if you want some girl scout cookies, (and you know you don’t want any), say a polite no. As you get better at this skill, you can begin saying no to people who are more important to you, like your friend, boss or parent.

In the moment, saying no doesn’t feel as good as saying yes. We may get push-back from the other person. They might even get angry with us. But once we get past that bad moment, saying no might feel wonderful. How wonderful would it feel, for example, to say no to being the room parent for your child’s class for the third year in a row? Or to say no when your coworker wants you to switch weekends taking call, when you already have plans for your scheduled weekend off?

Saying no can be wonderfully freeing. Tweet This

Are saying no and having boundaries biblical? Yes. Jesus used boundaries all the time. In John 2:14-16, Jesus says “NO!” to the people taking advantage of the poor in the temple:

In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”

In Luke 4:28-30, Jesus stands up to people from his home town, and they didn’t like it.

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Jesus walking away was his way of saying “NO!” to the crowd.

Question: Saying no is biblical, and will help you gain control over your life. Are you ready to try it?

Many blessings friends!




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