How To Say No

An Owning Pink reader asked me to write this post on how to say no. She wrote, “I searched high and low on the web to find how to say “no” in a finite manner. From Oprah to many self help gurus, most advise the not so friendly way – and when it comes to family – it’s a different story than saying no to a car salesperson. How can I make someone understand no is simply NO? Some kick-ass pointers, Lissa Rankin style, would be stellar.”

My rebellious first thought was “I should say no!” But not being one to prove a point just to prove a point, I decided to say yes, not because I feel obligated, but because I felt inspired, I love to write, and I definitely have some thoughts on this topic. Given that the holiday season starts this week, this topic seems particularly relevant, since some of our toughest no’s revolve around family. So if you’re one of those people who could use a few tips on how to say no – during the holidays and any other time – this post is for you.

Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

I’ve been a perfectionist-people-pleaser for most of my life, so “no” hasn’t been on my radar much until recently. For the majority of my life, I always managed to squeeze in the “yes,” even if it wasn’t what I wanted to do. But lately, there’s just not enough of me to say yes to everything that comes my way. In fact, I’ve written in magic marker in big black letters on my office wall “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

I admit that some of my “no’s” have been the much easier “not now.” Writing a book makes a great excuse. I just tell people I’m in my book writing cave, and for those things I really don’t want to do, I just hope people will forget to ask me again.

But wouldn’t it be more honest to just say “no,” without condition, without excuse, without apology? Wouldn’t it be liberating to just say “No, I don’t want to?” Oh yeah, baby. That feels good.

The Fear Of Saying NO

But then the Gremlin shows up. “What will people think of you, you diva bitch from hell? What if, by saying no, you miss out on some grand opportunity? What if you say no so many times people just quit asking, and then you’ll be all alone, nobody will love you, and your professional opportunities will just wither up and die?”

Scary, eh? That’s the thing, I think. “No” is SCARY. “No” means stepping into your power. “No” means being unapologetically YOU. “No” means tapping into your desires so you recognize what you DON’T desire. “No” means letting your freak flag fly, being authentic, and expressing your truth.

Saying “no” is actually saying “yes”- to YOU. By saying no – to relationships that no longer serve us, to professional opportunities that don’t feed our soul, to volunteer experiences that suck the life out of us, to family obligations we just don’t want to meet – we’re saying yes to our pleasure, our desires, and our dreams. We’re setting boundaries so there’s room for more of what we DO want in our lives.

But it’s tricky, because some people don’t listen when we say no. They assume we mean “not now.” Or they figure we just need to be persuaded. Or, especially when it comes to sex, they may think “no” actually means “yes,” when it just doesn’t.

So how do we say no – PERIOD?

11 Tips For How To Say No

  1. Get clear on whether it’s really a “no” or a “yes.” Are you saying “no” because you really don’t want to do it? Or is it really a “yes,” only you’re afraid? If it’s really a yes and you’re wallowing in fear, learn how to choose freedom over fear. If you’re not sure if it’s a “yes” or a “no,” ask your body. Notice physical symptoms. Tap into your Inner Pilot Light. Figure out what’s true for you.
  2. Don’t hedge. Avoid the temptation to say “maybe later” when it’s really a “no.” If you’re sure it’s a no, be kind but firm. “Maybe later” is a cop out and sends a mixed message that leaves the door open for “yes.” If you’re on the fence, “maybe later” is appropriate, but if you’re sure it’s a “no,” close the door.
  3. Avoid excuses. If your “no” leaves room for someone to alter the plan and ask again, you haven’t said no effectively. Avoid saying “I can’t because. . .” Instead say, “I’m really sorry but I just can’t.” I know it’s hard.
  4. Set boundaries. People don’t like it when you say “no.” You may get labeled “difficult” or “unaccommodating” or “bitchy.” But part of loving yourself enough to say no is knowing your inherent value and being willing to set boundaries that demand that others respect your worth. You can set boundaries in very loving ways. But once you set them, stick to them. Don’t let anyone cross the line, no matter how much they plead.
  5. Don’t let yourself be emotionally blackmailed. People sometimes misunderstand “yes” for love, so if you say “no,” you may trigger emotional blackmail from them. (Glaring examples are, “If you break up with me, I’m gonna kill myself.” Or variations on the theme of “I will withhold love if you don’t say yes.”)
  6. Ditch the guilt. Your sole purpose on this earth is not to say “yes.” It’s okay to express your desires and stand for what you need.
  7. Start with the easy “no’s.” Exercise your “no” muscle. It’s much easier to say no to the person who asks you to head that committee than it will be to say no to your husband or mother. Start small.
  8. Soften the blow. Not that you need to make excuses for yourself, but when you’re saying no to people you care about, you may find it tough. But you don’t have to scream “NO” from the rooftops. Deliver it with love. Explain that you’re not rejecting the person or saying no to their love. You’re just taking care not to overcommit, stray from your own personal integrity, or wind up being a doormat. Empower the person you’re saying no to so they can do the same for themselves. Let your “no” become a “yes” for someone else.
  9. Get support. Make a pact with a friend to start saying “no” more often. Check in with each other. Call your friend in moments of weakness. It’s easier to strengthen your no muscle when you’re not alone.
  10. Reward yourself. When you learn to say “no,” you often wind up with more time, more freedom, less entanglement, more YOU opportunities. When you reward yourself by using that time to support what you love, you’ll reinforce why it’s important to say no in the first place.
  11. Know your value. It’s easy to confuse people pleasing with being valuable. After all, if people are always telling you how generous you are with your time, your money, or even your body, you may come to believe that’s where your value lies. What if you’re just valuable. Period. No strings. Yup, you’re that awesome, baby.

Saying “yes” when you mean “no” elevates your levels of unhealthy stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, while reducing your health-inducing chillaxin’ hormones like dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. These hormonal changes can weaken your immune system, tax your cardiovascular system, deplete your adrenal glands, and predispose you to illness.

Is saying “yes” when you mean “no” really worth getting sick? You deserve to live a wholly healthy, vital life.

Can You Say No?

Is this tough for you? What have you learned about saying no?  Does it feel selfish to you to say no? Share your stories.

Supporting your no,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Revolutionarymotivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.


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Jennifer K.
Jennifer K.2 years ago

Still working on this one.

scarlett g.
scarlett g.3 years ago


Carlotta F.
Past Member 3 years ago

I just thought of something. My boyfriend is very accommodating. I don't ask for much, but maybe I should ask him if he has trouble saying "no", might help open the dialogue.

Victor M.
Victor M.4 years ago

just be yourself

Mary B.
Mary B.4 years ago

Being on the recieving end of a 'yes' person who really wants to say 'no' is annoying because you end up waiting for them to do something they didn't really want to do and they often do it poorly.Really, it's just better to say no and let them get on with finding someone who does want to take on the request. The same with haveing someone accept an invitation and then doesn't show up.

Cathy Maw
Catherine M.4 years ago

"No" is a succinct complete sentence. Short and sweet.

Faith Purdy
Faith Purdy4 years ago

thank you, deffinitely something i need to work on

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson4 years ago

no is a wonderful word. everyone should use it and then i'm sure we'd all get along a lot better.

Dana A.
Dana A.4 years ago

I have learned to say "no" ..lost a couple friends..but guess they werent really friends to begin with..thanks Lissa

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers4 years ago

Sensible advice!