How to say ‘no’ when you don’t feel confident

One of the most common issues I hear from people when I’m coaching them is: ‘I’d like to say ‘no’ more, but I don’t feel confident to do it’.

So here’s a brief set of guidelines to help you say ‘no’…

  • At the right time
  • For the right reasons
  • In the right way

Why do people say ‘yes’ when they really want to say ‘no’?

For many people, saying no is packed with guilt. Maybe you’re afraid of disappointing someone. Maybe you’re anxious to turn down your boss. 

Or maybe you’re a people pleaser.

For most of us, the inability to say no stems from childhood.

  • ‘Children should be seen and not heard’.

Or the classic school introduction: 

  • ‘Sit down, shut up and do as you’re told’.

And this can, and usually does, continue into adulthood: making our lives stressful, unfulfilling and frustrating.

You avoid saying no to others: especially someone ‘above’ you.

You are afraid they will think you are unable to perform your roles and responsibilities and you’ll get into trouble. 

It can also make it hard to say no to yourself. You constantly feel that you have to say yes to prove to others that you can cope!

On top of this: we are social creatures that rely on human connection. Because of our need to belong, we are afraid to disappoint others or create conflict.

But you know when it’s a good idea to decline something: you’re stressed and busy, you feel awkward, or you just don’t want to be bothered with it at the moment.

So many people tell me that they desperately want to say ‘no’ more but are frightened to do so, and don’t know where to start.

But the inability to say no is making you ill.

Learning how to say no is an important skill for your personal health and well-being. 

Your time and energy are precious resources that you should use wisely. And that means you can’t do everything.

As Stephen Covey wisely states in ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’: ‘When you say ‘yes’ to something, you’re subconsciously saying ‘no’ to a million other things at the same time’.

If you feel like you can’t say ‘no’, in the right way, when you want to, it can cause stress, burnout, unhappiness and long-term serious physical illness.

Let alone the fact that you don’t get done the things that you actually wanted to…

The secret solution is this:

  • You ‘tiptoe’ sound your fears, in tiny steps, until you learn a new set of skills.

There are 3 key steps:

  • Step 1: say to yourself: ‘I can learn how to say no’ and perhaps add on: ‘I may not know how to, or feel comfortable with it, at the moment, but I can learn if I take one small step at a time’.
  • Step 2: keep a clear ‘end in mind’: make sure you have a burning vision of how much better your life can be, if you can master this skill properly: think about this every day.
  • Step 3: have a set of extra inches, in the form of simple answers, so you can learn to say NO firmly, but also calmly and without causing unnecessary offence.

Easy to say … as ever, harder to do: it’s vital to do this in small steps: practise one step a week using your ‘weekly compass’

  • The key is to be positive and enthusiastic (being kind and supportive to the other person) … AND … true to yourself in a calm and assertive way:

Here are a few examples:

  1. That sounds great … sadly, I have something else going on.
  2. I’d like to say yes but I have another commitment.
  3. I wish I were able to but I’m already booked / in the middle of / tied up with / working at full capacity on
  4. I’m afraid I won’t be able to do that because …
  5. I’m already booked / in the middle of / tied up with / working at full capacity on … which thing would you like me to drop in order to say ‘yes’ to that (this works well at work with your boss).
  6. I’m honoured you asked me, but I’m already booked / in the middle of / tied up with / working at full capacity on….
  7. Thanks for thinking of me. However ….
  8. I’m sorry, I’m not able to fit this in at the moment
  9. Unfortunately, I already have plans. Maybe next time!
  10. No, thank you, but it sounds lovely.

So, either learn a few of these by heart, or have your own replies ready and practised for when you’re under pressure and really need them.

And they’re all just an extra inch!

Extra inch: work on one step per week. Start at step one by changing your mind, Then work on step 2 to have a clear and empowering vision. Then go to step 3 and start taking action in small steps.

If you’d like some support or coaching with this tricky subject: please email us at: 

Slow Selling is a UK based not for profit organisation for small business owners.

The aim is to help you grow your business through customer loyalty, reputation and referrals … without all the hype, hassle and nonsense. To find out more, please click here

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