SoulCare® Practices

Learning how to say no

Saying no is one of the hardest skills to learn. Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, once said, “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes,” which sums up the challenge to many. I thought to continue with this “saying no” topic and share my thoughts. We will explore the reasons why it’s so hard to say no, as well as tips to overcome it!

Why it’s so hard to say no

You are taught so

As I was growing up, I was always taught to be kind, nice, and help others whenever I could. It was considered rude and inconsiderate to say no. Resonate with my upbringing experience? It took me a while in my adulthood to unlearn what I had been taught and realized that being kind and nice doesn’t have to equate to say yes all the time

You care about what others think of you

It could be intimidating to say no, because you want people to like you; whether it’s your friends, colleagues or bosses. You are afraid that “saying no” not only projects an unkind image to others but you might also hurt others’ feelings.

You are worried about missing out

How many of you say yes because you are worried that saying no may jeopardize your future promotions, raises or being in the inner circle? However, in reality, has saying yes actually got you the promotion you have been secretly wanting?

You want to belong

You simply want to be part of the community and have a sense of belonging. And you don’t want to disappoint but want to be seen as helpful. You believe by saying yes will help you elevate the relationship and trust with others.

You genuinely want to help

Simply put, you feel the urge to offer your sincere and genuine help to others.

Tips on how to say no

Know it is okay to say no

You need to unlearn what you have been taught. Saying no is okay, it is not rude to do so, nor does it turn you into a selfish person. When you have healthy boundaries and take care of yourself, it’s actually an admirable action and people will respect and appreciate it.

Evaluate the request and understand your commitment

When you buy a house or make a financial investment, I assume you do your research and look for more information to help you make a sound decision, don’t you?

Learning more details about others’ requests of you, understanding the commitment and deadline, and evaluating how such commitment will affect the priorities in your life are crucial and fair. After all, when you say yes to any requests, you commit to invest your limited and precious time and energy.

Remember it has nothing to do with the person asking, so focus on the request

Nothing personal, but simply consider if you have the bandwidth to take on the extra request. Can you afford to do it now and how will the additional task compromise or jeopardize your other to-dos? How will that impact your state of mind and condition, and how well can you deliver the result?

When you focus on the request, you objectively assess your capacity and the requirement of the request, which helps you make a better decision for yourself and avoid saying yes out of personal biases or to make people happy.

Practice, practice and practice – be direct, clear, assertive and polite

According to the American Psychological Association, “deliberate practice occurs when an individual intentionally repeats an activity in order to improve performance.” Progress occurs by doing, understanding what works and what doesn’t work, course correcting and doing again.

Here are some ways you can say no to others with clarity and humanity:

  • I am honored but I can’t
  • I am booked into something
  • My plate is full, and I can’t right now
  • This isn’t the answer you were hoping for, but I can’t
  • I wish I could
  • I am afraid that I can’t
  • Unfortunately, I will need to pass on this
  • Thank you, but that’s not going to work for me

You practice all the time, with or without knowing, and your brain is always absorbing and learning. Practice saying no by yourself or with a friend, which will make you feel a whole lot more comfortable when you are in a situation to say no. After all, “practice makes perfect.”

Offer an alternative

Offering an alternative could possibly provide a win-win situation for both parties. Maybe you are really interested in the request but just don’t have the bandwidth to take it on right away. If that’s the case, you can always tell the person if they could wait and check back with you again, and be sure to give them a specific time frame to check back. Or if you don’t feel like the right person for the request, propose someone whom you think may be a better fit for the need.

Sometimes, it’s better to take your time to respond

When you feel pressured to say yes, ask for some time to respond. By doing so, you give yourself time to evaluate the request, your priority and the requirement and commitment, should you decide to take on the request.

You can ask for more time by saying “let me check with my husband/team to see if I am available,” “let me think about it and I will get back to you by date/time,” or “I will have to check my schedule and let you know by date/time.”


Who knows you well and can unbiasedly see how tired or stressed you are? Who can listen to you without judgment when you experience a tough time? Who is willing and available for you to practice your skills of saying no? Find your support person or group who is committed to your well-being!

Warren Buffett said, “We need to learn the slow yes and the quick no.” Learning how to say no isn’t easy but is crucial to live a more balanced life and avoid possible burnout in life. At Forte, your Guide is there to support you and cheer you on as you take control of your life and resist the temptation to say yes all the time.

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