As social beings our relationships with others are important to us and we try to avoid conflict. We also care about how we come across and what others think of us. There could be many reasons behind the fear of saying no to someone. We might be afraid of being perceived as selfish, uncaring, rude or petty. One may have excessive desire to please others and put others’ wishes before their own. Such an individual will do something for others even if it is inconvenient, frustrating and overstressing him- or herself.  There is also the fear of the possible rejection or hurting others feelings. The taunting fear of not being liked anymore can be powerful and paralyzing for many people, especially if they are dependent on others to fulfil their needs. 

Inability to say no can lead to frustrations, anger, helplessness, self-disappointment, stress within the self and even indirectly built-up anger and resentment toward the other person. Saying no can comes naturally to some and yet others need to learn the skill but it is simple. We have free will and we are planning, reflecting, learning, aspiring, motivated and self-regulating beings. We also have rights. We have the right to ask for what we want, express our emotions and state our own convictions, wishes, ideas and desires. We have the right to say no to others just as they have to right to ask things of us. We have the right for our own personal space, to help and receive support, to choose how to respond to situations and to negotiate change. We have the right to choose not to justify ourselves to others ( Cloitre, Cohen,& Koenen, 2006).

When we choose to say no we choose to do what is good for us at that moment. It does not mean that you reject the person or the relationship. It means that you reject that specific request. It also does not mean that you will always say no to that person and that is the last time that person will approach you. A relationship with a strong base will not crumble if you say no when it is inconvenient for you. You should also not feel like you have to apologize when you stand up for yourself. Saying sorry might open the door for the other to manipulate your feeling and use guilt to get the request anyway. Once you make up your mind that you rather decline the request, be calm, assertive and straightforward in your approach. 

If you are interested in maintaining the relationship with that person you can choose a few strategies.

*You can start paraphrasing the request as to show that you understand what is asked of you and then simply state the reason why you are refusing. For example: ‘I can’t have lunch with you because I have to drive my kids to the soccer game’.

*You might want to say no now but suggest an alternative for the future, in that case both needs are being met. If you have no intention on fulfilling this, it would not be fair on the other to choose this NO strategy.  An example: ‘I can’t stay late at work today but I could stay later tomorrow’ OR ‘I don’t have the time to help you today but if you want I could find the time to do it next week’.   

*Depending on the context, but sometime saying no can be received better when you acknowledge someone’s feelings and yet adding assertive tone later. For example, ‘I know that you were really looking forwards to going to the pub tonight but I have a report due tomorrow and I just have to cancel’.

If you don’t want to have a relationship with the person making the request, then just say no thank you, respectfully and firmly. You can use the broken record technique if they persist.  It basically means that you keep eye contact, raise you tone a bit and repeat yourself until the person gets it.

Cloitre, M., Cohen, L.R., & Koenene, K.C.(2006). Psychotherapy for interrupted life. The New York: Guilford press.