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saying no

Have you faced a situation when someone asked you for a favour that you initially denied, but when they continued to ask you, you felt compelled to say yes? Or maybe the other time when your close friend asked you to attend an event and you just couldn’t bring yourself to say the daunting two-letter word?

Admittedly, I have faced that situation before. However, I have since spent hours reading articles about ‘saying no’. Today I want to share with you everything I learnt from those articles– yes EVERYTHING.

Why Do You Need To Say NO?

There are two main reasons why saying no is beneficial.

  1. You cannot say yes to everything.
  2. You own the right to say no.

In life, we have limited time and limited energy. Saying yes to everything possible would either cause you to burnout or live a life controlled by others.

Likewise, sometimes you may feel really guilty about rejecting your friend. But you should always remember that you have the right to say no because your life is yours to live!

Now that you have understood the importance of saying no, let me take you through the detailed 4 step process about saying “no”.

Step 1: Should You Say “No”?

Warren Buffett once said,

The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.

You not only do not want to say no to things you should be saying yes to, but you also want to be firm when you choose to say no. Hence, what you say no to is equally, if not more important, than how you say it.

To make an informed decision on whether or not to say no, I highly recommend asking yourself these two questions:

1. What did I aim to accomplish this week?

If you plan your week, you should be familiar with what you planned to accomplish. Remind yourself what your purpose for this week is.

2. Will I still accomplish my goal if I say yes to the request?

If your goal this week was to finish a project, saying yes to a social gathering will not help you meet your goal. But if your goal this week is to improve your relationship with your friend, saying yes is most likely a better bet.

When your answer to this question is “yes”, feel free to say “yes” to the request as well. However, if saying yes does not accomplish your goal (which I believe is applicable for most of you), proceed to Step 2.

Step 2: Navigating The Fuzzy Part

Just a quick summary: at this point, you should be clear that saying yes will not help you accomplish your goal in any way.

However, if at the same time, you still don’t feel convinced to say no, then this section is specially tailored for you. This section is split into two separate parts. Part 1 focuses on answering common questions you may have. Whereas, Part 2 focuses on exceptions to saying no.

Part 1:

Question: I am worried that my friend may react angrily to me saying no. Should I say yes instead?

Answer: First things first. I want you to understand that you should not be worried about what you cannot control. You can control yourself saying no. But you cannot control how your friend will react to you saying no. Generally, you should not worry about that part at all. In most cases, think about it, what sign does it show when your friend reacts negatively to you saying no?

Think of it in the long-term. If every single time you give in to something because your friend was angry when you said no, is your friend really your friend? Are they someone that really cares for you and respects your decision?

If your friend truly is your friend, they will understand where you are coming from. Hence, you do not have to fret over your friend reacting negatively to you saying no (of course that assumes you tell your friend politely, which I will cover later on). Essentially, most of the time say no if it does not meet your goals for that particular week/month.

You may be thinking, why do I keep saying “most of the time”? Well, there is an exception, which is the second part of this step. Before I dive into it, I want you to understand that this is an exception, not a norm. So do not keep saying yes when you want to say no simply because I say that there is an “exception”.

Part 2:

Remember my example of your friend inviting you to their wedding? Just imagine that during that particular week, you are very caught up in a project at work. In this case, your goals are to complete that project, and attending your friend’s wedding does not accomplish those goals. However, you know very well that saying no results in disastrous outcomes. This is where there is an exception.

This exception mainly relies on 3 variables:

  1. It does not take much effort on your part.
    Maybe that event you were invited to is pretty short and it helps foster better relationships with your friend. Then you should seriously consider going even if your goals for that week may be different.
  2. It has a huge impact on the friendship.
    Your friend getting married is a significant milestone in your friend’s life, and being absent from that could send a signal that you do not care for him/her. If you saying no has the potential to cause the entire friendship to fall apart, then consider saying yes.Note: This does not include the circumstances where your friend is unreasonably angry with you for saying no.
  3. It is a one-off affair.
    Have you always ended up saying yes even though saying yes did not meet your goals? Well, then you should stick with saying no. On the other hand, if you had always been disciplined in saying no, and this situation has the characteristics of a and b, you may want to consider saying yes instead. This is because you know that even though you may say yes, you are not ceding control to your friend.

This is pretty much the framework you should stick to, to help you decide if you should say no. Sadly, there is something I want to admit. Life is very complex and there is no fixed framework that you can blindly use every single time.

For some obvious cases, like your friend’s wedding, you should say yes because it fulfills all 3 criteria above. However, what do you do say it meets b and c but does not meet a? I am sure you have encountered similar situations before, right?

For situations like these, I want you to understand that it all comes down to your judgement. How close do you believe you are to your friend? What is your friend’s personality like? These are questions that only you can answer. As much as I want to give you a framework to follow, you must understand that you should not stick to it rigidly.

Example: Peter’s friend, James, asked him for help in an important project (fulfills b). However, the commitment was too large (opposite of a). Peter knows that he has always been disciplined in letting his no be no (fulfills c). Peter could perhaps indicate his interest but actively work towards finding an alternative. If an alternative could not be sought, Peter may want to still help James even though it only meets 2 out of 3 of the criteria above.

I know what you are thinking. Why must I spend so much time going through this process?

I want you to understand that the clearer you know why you are saying no, the firmer your no.

I also want you to understand that at this point, you should not be making any changes to your decision. In other words, if you have already decided to say no (after going through steps 1 and 2), then stick to it. Don’t let your friend’s persistent pleading change your mind.

Which brings me to Step 3.

Pro tip: Sometimes your friend may ask you to attend an event you don’t know the purpose of. Don’t be afraid to ask! Say your friend asked you if you could attend a social gathering. You believed that it would help grow the relationship between you and your friend. However, afterwards, you found out that many of your friend’s relatives are going and the program was more suited for your friend’s family! Feel free to say no, and perhaps propose another date. In situations like these, if you realized after asking that it was not what you thought it was, feel free to say no.

Step 3: How To Say No

When you say no, there are mainly two things you want to achieve in your no.

First of all, you want to say an effective no.

Here are a few ways to say an effective no.

  1. Just say no. Get to the point, will you? Don’t beat around the bush. If you want to say no, say it upfront. If you give a wishy-washy answer, such as “probably not”, you are opening up the opportunity for your friend to push you into saying a yes. Be firm about your no.
  2. Give a reason. Psychologists have found out that people are much more likely to be persuaded when they hear the word “because”. By using the word “because”, you would likely be able to persuade your friend despite your reason not being compelling enough. Also, if your friend is your close friend, I believe that they deserve an explanation for why you said no.
  3. Give an alternative. By giving your friend an alternative, you are convincing them that you understand where they are coming from. Your friend will appreciate your attempt at granting a concession, and may even reciprocate that concession (Cialdini’s first law of persuasion). Also, doing so may be beneficial for you as you may come up with an alternative that may be better than the original suggestion, benefitting both parties.

The second thing you want to ensure in your “no” is that it is a polite “no”

I mean I surely don’t have to explain why you want to be polite, right? Do take note of these key factors to craft a polite “no”.

  1. Thank your friend for the invitation. Whether you say yes or no, thank them for taking the time to send you an invitation. It shows appreciation. Be sincere in thanking them.
  2. Give an alternative (as mentioned above). It also shows that you are being polite as you care about helping your friend.
  3. Be honest. This is very very important. I cannot stress enough. Something you definitely do not want to do is to lie about the reason why you are saying no. Yes, you may be able to get away with giving a false reason, but what would be the cost if you are found out? It would break the trust between you and your friend (or maybe even your boss, if your boss asked you to work overtime).
    As the famous quote goes,

    Trust is a fragile thing. Easy to break, easy to lose and one of the hardest things to ever get back.

  4. Be sincere. I know what I am telling you is a framework. But don’t blindly follow it so it becomes very insincere. You must be sincere in giving thanks, and sincere in giving an alternative. You must be really willing to want to help your friend, such that both of you are standing on the same side and looking to find a solution together. Only then will the framework work. Who knows, your friend may even thank you for saying no because you helped them find an even better alternative!

In order to say an effective no and be polite at the same time, I have crafted the following template that you can use (don’t stick to it rigidly, be yourself!):

Hey [name],

Thanks for your note/invitation!

I’m really flattered that you’d like to bring my brain into the mix.

I need to say “no,” because __________.

But I would love to support you in a different way.

[Offer an alternative form of support]

Thank you for being such a wonderful ___________. Let me know if there is any other way I can help you.

[Closing words of encouragement, optional] [Your name]


That being said, let’s go on to the last step, in case things don’t go as planned.

Step 4: How To Handle A Negative Reaction

If your friend graciously accepted your “no”, then rejoice and skip this section!

However, if not, read on.

Two very likely outcomes may occur

  1. Your friend may keep pushing you to say a yes.
    One thing you must ensure is that you do not give in. You have already decided on steps 1 and 2 and already locked in your decision. Focus on helping your friend by finding an alternative.
  2. Your friend may react angrily.
    The first thing you must do is to be calm. Do not shout in retaliation, for you will stir up his/her anger. Rather, be gentle and repeat your explanation. The same point as above, do not give in. Be gentle and honest in explaining your rationale to him/her. Show him/her that you care by helping him/her find an alternative. If after all these he/she is still very angry, take time to reflect if you should continue investing in the relationship.


Saying no is not easy, but it is necessary. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can follow to make saying no easier.

  • Deliberate if you want to say no
  • Think about the actual reasons for saying no/yes
  • Say a firm yet polite no
  • Respond gently if the situation is not in your favour

When saying no, remember to be sincere and be yourself. By doing so, who knows what great results you can get!



Nathanael Siew

Nathanael Siew is the owner of the personal development website Wise Living Today, a website aimed at inspiring people to see the world through lenses of hope. With in-depth content and fresh insights, his articles empower readers to live a more meaningful and effective life.

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