How to say “no” with less guilt

Sometimes we agree to something to avoid feeling guilty later.

by Dr. Barbara Hare — 

Have you ever said yes to something you really did not want to do? Setting boundaries is an important part of managing stress. You have a finite amount of time and energy to give in any single day, and if you do not protect it, no one else will.

Sometimes we agree to something to avoid feeling guilty later. The problem is that we may then feel resentful or angry. But the idea of saying no can be quite stressful for many people. It may feel like a no-win situation. How do I say no to lower my stress, if saying no increases my stress?

Here are four strategies to make saying no easier:

1. Delay your response — Perhaps the first words out of your mouth could be, “Can I get back to you on that?” or “I need to check my schedule.” This gives you time to consider the request. Do you really have the time? Do you want to do it? This is especially helpful if you have a bad habit of saying yes without thinking about it.

2. The sandwich approach — Put the “no” between two positive comments. For example, “Thank you for your confidence in me, but I cannot take on another commitment right now. It sounds great, though!”

3. Change the subject — After you have said no, ask follow-up questions to show your interest in the requestor and his or her life. Keep the other person talking for a minute or two.

4. The broken record technique — If the requestor is persistent, repeat yourself as often as you need to. If he or she is exceptionally pushy, you might need to say something like, “I understand this is very important to you, but my answer is no. I cannot help you.”

These techniques may soften the blow of telling someone no. If you employ them with respect and empathy for the other person’s feelings, you will have nothing to feel guilty about. And remember, just because someone throws you a guilt-ball does not mean you have to catch it!


Barbara Hare, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Phoenix. She specializes in helping women with anxiety to stop worrying and start living. 623-363-8747.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 26, Number 2, April/May 2007.

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