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How to say NO when we want don't want to say YES?

Updated on December 17, 2015

We all know how difficult it is for us to say NO in many of the situations, even if we don’t want to say YES. There may be different reasons in different situations but if you say YES to someone’s request, when you know that you don’t want to say YES, you are most probably heading toward some problem. The reason for such a response is more psychological than circumstantial. When inability to say NO becomes a habit, one faces many problems, some of which may have serious repercussions.

In most of the instances, our inability to say NO to many unjustified requests of others has deep roots in our early childhood, which gradually becomes our second nature that is clearly reflected in our personality.

There are many reasons why we are unable to say NO when we don’t want to say YES:

We have been taught – This is one of the most important reasons for our inability to say NO because we have been taught in childhood that it is impolite to say NO to the request of others. As a child, we have been taught the importance of being polite by our parents. So, we respond to their requests with YES, when people ask us to do something for them. As children, we are also taught to help elderly, disabled or unfortunate persons. In fact, by being obedient and helpful to people, we were being programmed to put the needs of others before our needs.

Unfortunately, over time such responses of saying YES create unhealthy psychological pattern that remains with us as an adult. When the pattern becomes a deep rooted habit, we cannot differentiate between circumstances when we should say YES or when we should say NO.

Another thing that our parents taught us as children is to reciprocate the favors done to us. No doubt it is good to do so but at times we say YES without giving a second thought to it because we want to pay back a specific favor. Later we realize that we made a mistake by doing so. We should return favors by saying YES to the requests of others that we consider to be just and appropriate to pay back. In fact, we develop a sense of indebtedness in our long-term relationships. Our habit of reciprocity actually comes in handy in such relationships that we hardly reconsider other’s requests before saying YES.

We wish to be likeable – We all wish to be liked by our parents, friends, teachers, peers, boss, co-workers etc. And to do so we start saying YES to their requests that gradually becomes our habit. We always try to create a good impression on others, including stranger. Saying YES comes conveniently. Many of us develop a habit of flattery in order to become likeable. If we do flattery with someone with a good motive, it is not bad but flattery with an ulterior motive is not good as the flatterer is likely to be exposed of his or her motive. This unhealthy habit of flattery will put us in many difficult situations in life.

We avoid challenging authority – It is commonly seen in workplace situations when we avoid displeasing our boss or seniors by saying promptly YES. Quite often we agree to work late in the office, knowing well that it is affecting adversely our personal and family life. We know that since they are authority figures, we buckle quite often. Gradually, our attitude of submissiveness encourages our boss or seniors to exploit us and we have to suffer a lot on this account.

We lack courage to say NO – Many a time we know that if we say YES to the request of someone, it may cause harm to us. But we cannot say No because we lack assertiveness. People seem to lack assertiveness due to low self-esteem and low self-confidence. Such people have a feeling of unworthiness, due to which they fail to stand up for what they believe and who they are. That is why they are unable to say NO.

Ways to develop an ability to say NO –

Regardless of age, sex, social status or anything else, we must remember that we are just as important as anyone else. Our needs, desires and interests must be taken into account as well as everybody else’s. Some basics of assertiveness that need to be considered before saying YES to the requests have been mentioned below:

  • Away remember that saying YES means that you will donate your precious time for others. Therefore, you should first see that your needs and desires have precedence over the needs and desires of others. Else, you will live the rest of your life regretting about the things you wanted to do but could not do because of tending to the needs of others.
  • Always remember that saying YES to a request means that you will require a great deal of time and effort to fulfill the request. So, you should take a moment to evaluate if you can afford to do so before saying YES.
  • Always remember that trying to fulfill the requests of others that are out of scope of your expertise, you will do disservice instead of helping them. So, you should evaluate such requests before saying YES to them.
  • Always remember that by saying YES to the requests of others, your will deprive someone of your time, who deserves it more such as family, parents or someone sick. So, you should evaluate if you will shortchange someone by saying YES to a request.
  • Always remember to listen to the voice in your head before saying YES to the request of someone because you might repent your decision for the reason that your don’t like the particular person due to some bad experience or the person might have cheated or misguided you earlier. You should always ask yourself if it is worth agreeing to the request.
  • Always remember to consider if saying NO is going to lead to irreparable consequences. Normally, we are faced often with such situations in life. You should say YES if you are faced with a situation that may lead to irreparable damage by saying NO.
  • Always remember to realistically consider if somebody else is equally capable of taking care of the request by someone. If you find that someone will volunteer to agree to take care of the task, always suggest the name as it will save you some trouble and, at the same time, it will help fulfill the request.
  • Always remember that if the request by someone doesn’t fit within your priorities, don’t say YES. Priorities means that the things that are most important should be put above everything else. So, taking care of your priorities is the only way to accomplish all that you want without overstressing yourself.
  • Always remember to evaluate how much time a particular task is going to take for being completed before saying YES to the request of somebody. If the task is time consuming, you should reconsider before agreeing to it. It also matters who has requested you to do a particular task. If the person is quite near and dear who has requested for the task, which you think will not take much of your time, you can give consent to do it.
  • We should remember that people ask us to do a particular task for them because they know that we habitually agree to do so. If you think that this is the reason for their request, you should straightaway say NO so that you can change your image of YES man.
  • We are sometimes requested to do a task, which we think we will enjoy doing it but, incidentally, we lack time to do so at present. In such a situation, you should evaluate the probability if you will be able to do so at a later date. If so, you can decline the request at present but state your desire to do it at a later date. In this way, you will neither be declining the task nor will lose an opportunity to enjoy doing it later.

The bottom line –

For the most of people, it is quite difficult to say NO when they usually say YES because they are programmed so. One of the important reasons for our inability to say NO is that we feel that we are being selfish for saying NO. And we carry the feeling of guilt for our refusal. But we should always remember that we cannot please everyone. Another significant reason is that in strained relationships we are afraid of saying NO because we fear the person concerned will stop caring for us. But actually whatever the reason may be, we cannot afford to say YES to every request since we have limited time and energy that we first need for ourselves.

If we don’t want to overburden our life, we will have to learn the art of saying NO. It doesn’t mean that we can’t say YES to other’s requests but it means that we will develop an ability to evaluate the situations, where we can say YES without any reservation. And the fact is that it can be learned by anyone with sincere efforts.


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    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks Nadine for your comments. I will look up the book suggested by you.

      I too wish you a Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 

      3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Great post. Your article so reminded me of the book we have published titled: No Problem - The upside of saying NO by Liesel Teversham. If you look it up at Amazon you could always include it into this post. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year festivities.

    • HealthbyMartha profile image

      Martha Montour 

      3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas and happy New Year as well Dr Rangan!

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Wish you Dana and Denise a great time for the coming Christmas and New Year festivities.

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks Martha for your nice comments. True that one has a very difficult time when one tries to please everyone.

      Wish you a wonderful time in the forthcoming festivities of Christmas and New Year.

    • HealthbyMartha profile image

      Martha Montour 

      3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Another good article Dr. Rangan. As a people pleaser, its been difficult for me to say no to others. Over the years I've learned that to say no to others is to say yes to ourselves, which you beautifully explain. Very timely with the coming holidays and increased demands on our time. Thank you.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      This very principle cost me my career. I was working for someone who requested something of me that caused a confusion of my priorities. When I lost track of my priorities, I made decisions that were not in my best interest or those over whom I had responsibility. The very person who made the request of me then did not support me when a critical situation occurred, and I had to leave as a result. Now, I am much more able to say "No" when I need to!

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 

      3 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      Wow! Dr. Pragan, this article is a must read for anyone struggling with priorities. I have been in this situation both with family members and work. And, I felt resentful and yes, exploited by both. I enjoy helping and going out of my way, but I often get angry when I realize that although I will go out of my way for others they wouldn't do the same for me.

      One day a voice in my heart spoke and said, "You can't be upset because you are willing to be uncomfortable for others, but they won't do the same for you." well that taught me a valuable lesson. It wasn't them who were wrong, but me for not being true to my wants and needs. I still find myself struggling with this when it comes to my job, but I'm getting better. Your article was right on time. I believe others will also benefit from this reminder. Sharing.


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