6 Steps to Saying “No” and Walking Away with a Smile

How did this happen again?

You hoped for a chill weekend lazying around—sleep in. Netflix. Perhaps some beers.

But those dreams are now gone…

You were guilted into someone else’s plans.


Feelings of hopelessness wash over you. And you once again feel like a pushover. Pressured by your family, colleagues or acquaintances to help them out.

What about you?

When will you have time for yourself? And how can you break free from the cycle of “yes”?

You have to say “no.” But how can you do it without hurting their feelings? And how can you justify time for yourself when others sincerely need your help?

Saying “no” (turns out) is kinda complicated. Which is why we need a way to simplify the process.

Pre-conversation: Prepare yourself to say “no” easily

Saying “no” really starts before the conversation. Just like a fun vacation is usually the result of killer planning, saying “no” is, too.

But this plan isn’t what you think.

There’s no rehearsing in front of a mirror, or wondering how to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Because saying “no” is less about disappointing others, and more about discovering your own self worth.

How do I know?

Well, I was once a “yes” man, too. Getting sucked into other people’s commitments, plans and ambitions…until I took control of my life and decided to put myself first.

And you can do the same, too. So…

1. Think about what you want to accomplish in 6 months

If you have no direction, no goals, then saying “no” will be tough. Because, well, if you have nothing better to do, why not say “yes”?

So ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish in the next 6 months?”

When you begin to think about what you want from life, almost by magic, saying “no” becomes easier.

As I mention in An Ordinary Dude’s Guide to Habit, your best shot at accomplishing a goal is to make it measurable, concrete, specific and within your control. So maybe your goal is to start a side business that earns $3,000 a month, or lose 20 pounds. With the right focus, both are possible in 6 months.

Whatever your goal, it will require effort. Which means now you don’t have time to say “yes” to everything. You have to think about you…

2. Plan a date with yourself

Give yourself some love.

Schedule a date in your calendar for you when you can plan your goals 6 months out.

Maybe you just want to relax more—watch an episode of Stranger Things every Tuesday night, read a book on your deck or simply lounge outside in a hammock.

Yes, you can schedule free time.

So pour yourself a glass of wine (you are on a date, after all) and write down in your planner a specific time you’ll do these activities and for how long. This could be an hour every day after work, Saturday mornings or the entire day Sunday. The choice is yours. Book out as much or as little time for yourself and your projects as you’d like.

Then stick to your guns.

This time is sacred for you. So don’t allow anyone to convince you otherwise.

The moment of truth: How to say “no” in real conversation

Oh crap. It just happened.

In mid-conversation you’re asked for a favor.

Your hands begin to shake, your forehead wrinkles in worry and you try to hold back a “yes.”

It’s okay.

Calm down, breathe and go through the steps below.

3. Consider saying “yes”


“I thought I was supposed to drop an iron clad NO?”

Look, the goal isn’t to always say “no”—the goal is to make time for yourself.

Some requests are certainly worth your time.

So, even if only for a few seconds, consider a “yes.”

Every relationship is give and take. And the closer you are to that person, the more thoroughly a “yes” should be considered. Give one too many “noes” to your parents, significant other or best friend, and you risk damaging the relationship.

Enter the emotional bank account.

The emotional bank account refers to the “give and take” aspect of any relationship. When you help someone out, you deposit goodwill into their emotional bank account. When you say “no,” you make a withdrawal.

Say “no” too many times, and you could run their emotional bank account dry. The requester may grow to resent you or even want to end the relationship. Say “yes” too many times, and then you’re the bitter one with an empty emotional bank account.

So balance your “yeses” with your “noes.”

4. Say “no” to the right person, in the right way—3 methods

You’ve decided.

You’re going to drop the NO bomb.

But first, slow down and realize not all “noes” are created equal. Depending on who you’re speaking with, you may want to deliver your “no” differently.

  1. The respectful “no”: Just because you say “no,” doesn’t mean you have to be a dick. Instead, politely decline. You can offer a short explanation like, “I have plans that day,” or “I don’t have time in my schedule.” You can also apologize and say “Sorry, I can’t do it.” Say it to: Family and close friends.
  2. The no explanation, one-liner “no”: Saying “no” doesn’t mean the other person is entitled an explanation. Whomever you’re saying “no” to, just say “No, I can’t do it,” or “No thanks.” Say it to: Colleagues and acquaintances.
  3. The ignore “no”: Depending on the request, you may not have to answer (for example, emails). Remember, think of yourself. Just because someone asks something of you, doesn’t mean you have time to respond. You’ve got plans of your own, remember? Say it to: Loose connections or strangers.

5. Call out all “guilt trippers”

You purse your lips about to say “no.”

And then the whining begins.

“Oh come on. Just this once. It won’t take much of your time, I promise.”


“I really need your help. You’re my only hope. I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”


Recognize you’re now being pressured into saying “yes.” The guilt tripper is trying to sucker you into a conversation where they can bully you to “yes.”

So call them out.

Say, “So you’re trying to guilt me into saying ‘yes’?”

Doing this is like shining a spotlight on a criminal as they burglarize a house. They’re caught red handed. And in my experience, the phrase usually elicits an embarrassed smile and end to the guilt trip.

6. Just say “no”

You’ve decided to say “no,” chosen one of the three ways to deliver it and have withstood the guilt-a-thon. Good job.

As you ready yourself to say “no,” remember, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. When you’ve scheduled your week, when you have plans, there’s no need to feel guilty. You deserve time for yourself.

So just let er’ rip.

Saying “no” fosters confidence, freedom and joy

Imagine your first step. You say “no,” turn your back and stride toward freedom.

A weight rolls off your shoulders. You’re beaming.

Suddenly there are endless possibilities. You’ve given yourself one of the greatest gifts in life—time.

Time for you.

By saying “no” to someone else, you have said “yes” to your life. Yes, you are deserving. Yes, you can chase your dreams. Yes, you can spend all Saturday on the couch with a pizza, buddies and football. Life can be as you wish.

So as you walk away, how can you not smile?

This is the beginning of a beautiful journey. “No” is going to change your life in ways you never imagined. Now all you have to decide is, what will you do first?

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