The Art of Saying No

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Is it true? Does it really come down to an art when we are saying no?

Saying “no” is really just saying “yes” with limitations.

I do not know who originally penned that phrase but it is perfectly brilliant.  

When we say “no” to something it does not mean that we will never do it, it just means that right now, at this point in time, it is not the right course of action for us.

It is OK to say “no” and it is OK to admit that you do not have the time or energy for something. After all wouldn’t it be better to refuse to do something than to do it halfway?

When we say “no” to one thing we are actually saying “yes” to something else.

If we choose not to work on a project that was offered to us we are leaving the time for another project that will nourish us better. When we refuse to work with difficult people we are allowing ourselves the opportunity to work with people who are more aligned with our ideology. If we refuse an event then we free up time for something else such as spending time with our family.

We must learn how to say “no” or we will actually block our emotional intelligence.

Research from the University of California in San Francisco supports this premise. They state that those that have a hard time refusing something actually are more likely to experience stress, burnout, and depression

A great way to protect yourself from saying “yes” immediately upon being asked for your expertise is to simply ask for time to think about the offer that has been made to you. This tactic is especially useful if you are feeling unsure if this particular opportunity is the right opportunity for you.  

If you do say “no” you will have respected the offer by showing that you have fully considered it. The added bonus is the time to think about how to refuse in a nice and diplomatic way.

Always remember not to burn any bridges as you never know what the future may bring and when you may need that support system.

Decline the offer in a way that is understood avoiding soft phrases. Instead of “I do not think I can” simply say “I am not able to make that commitment.” If possible suggest people that could help.  Offer positives with your answer and you will feel confident in the handling of the situation.

A statement such as the following is strong, helpful and kind. It offers a no sandwiched between two beautiful slices of gluten free bread that are saying yes. It is a gracious way to show appreciation while protecting your own limitations.

“Thank you for reaching out to me but I am not able to make that commitment. I do  look forward to working with you in the future. In the meantime, I would be more than happy to make suggestions of someone who I trust and perhaps you can touch base with them.”

Setting your boundaries is your right and privilege. Honor them both and you will achieve amazing things.

What are your best tips for saying no? I would love to know.

Inspiring Women Magazine, original publish date May 6, 2014


35 thoughts on “The Art of Saying No”

  1. Pingback: Do You Have Enough Energy For Happiness? - Dr. Elise Cohen Ho


    Sometimes it is really hard to say NO to things… Quite often I get pulled away from doing some work online but rather than say No I just say OK let’s go do it… Maybe I need to man up. I need to learn to say NO.


  3. Joan Harrington

    Hi Elise,

    Interesting post 🙂 For some saying no is much easier and for some it can be difficult……..just depends if the outcome is positive or negative….

    Great share!

  4. Hello, Elise. Ususally when I say no, I try to be nice about it and blunt at the same time. If it is something that I do not want to do and I know I will be pestered about it if I do not make my decision clear right from the start, I simply let people know I appreciate the offer, but I do not want to participate in the offer. You do have some great suggestions though because if you tell people that you would like to have some time to think it over, then you do not have to make a concrete decision right on the spot and you would be able to think about it. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Hello Elise, Quite the article my friend! I for one have A HUGE problem with saying NO and always have. I can have so much on my plate and someone asks me to fill in for them or to come and check this out and I say sure! Really Chery! I do know enough is enough yet I don’t know how to say NO!

    I was on a call the other night and brought this up the fella doing the call told me to put my blinders on! When I told him my blinders didn’t work he told me to get some professional help.

    Well perhaps this is what it is going to take.. I for one am not sure, all I know is that I do need to get focused..

    This has been an great eye opener for me.. Thanks for sharing.. Chery :))

  6. I think saying No is hard for some people. Some people ahve no problem saying no whilst others (mainly people pleasers) find it very hard to say no.

    But you are right saying no. is saying yes to something else.

    Interesting topic.

  7. Elise,

    I had trouble saying no for a considerable time. I just wanted to do everything and didn’t want to let people down.

    Through a leadership course, I quickly learned that saying no is necessary, and may even benefit your “asker.”

    Your words are a great reminder: “Setting your boundaries is your right and privilege. Honor them both and you will achieve amazing things.”



  8. Hi Elise,

    Excellent post. It took me many years to realize that I could say “no” and people would still be my friend and if they didn’t, they weren’t worth it.

    A hard lesson learned but a great one that many people need to also learn.

    Have a great day. Monna

  9. I have never had a problem saying no to anyone or anything, and I will admit that I don’t understand people who have a hard time saying no. There is always a courteous, kind way to say no. I remember going to a presentation for lakeside property that was for sale (you remember the kind that if you just went to a presentation you would get a toaster oven or a set of knives or something). When it was over I declined to purchase. I told the salesman that I just didn’t like the property or the lake it was on. He had no comeback for that particular objection. He told me that in his twelve years of sales no one had ever said that before. Heck, I was just being honest.

  10. Hi Elise,

    Would you believe that I actually had undergone therapy to say “No?” It’s true, I did it many years ago because I found myself always distressed and realized I never learned to say no. So this post is very important to me because I was on the other side of “No” at a time in my life.

    Now I have no problem and will easily say NO to an offer in a kind way like you mentioned in this article. When it gets down to it all, saying no is an honest way of communicating with others. And it’s OK!

    Thanks for bringing up this topic,


  11. Agreed, sometimes how you say “no” is just as important as the reason. How it is interpreted by the other party can lay the foundation for future interactions.

  12. It took a long time for me to learn to be comfortable saying no. The idea that saying no to one thing is really saying yes to another is a great way to look at it!
    Thanks for that inspiration.

  13. Hi Elise,

    Thank you for the reminder!

    “No” used to not be part of my vocabulary. I was a chronic “people pleaser” who was able to give everyone else and their priorities 100%, but my life’s passions and priorities fell by the wayside.

    Thankfully, I’ve found balance! Everything in moderation, right?

    Don’t they say “it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it” that matters. I just imagine myself being the one turned down and am better able to express the decline when telling someone else. I usually also try to make it up to them too – old pleaser tendencies! Haha.

    🙂 Anna

  14. Erika Mohssen-Beyk

    Hi Elise ,
    this is a nice article .
    We all need to say no sometimes ,
    but saying no in the right way .
    You explain it here very good.
    and it is worth to think about .
    Thank you very much

  15. Hi Elise! learning that it is OK and even healthy to say ‘no’ was a long, hard lesson for me. I am famous for taking on too much and getting very stressed and warn down in the process. It was tough to pull back, but it is very freeing to be more cautious with my commitment. Thanks for the great article!

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About The Author

Dr. Elise Ho

Dr. Elise Ho

Dr. Ho is a Holistic Health & Life Coach with a special interest in Mindset, Stress Management, Emotional Health and the Brain-Gut Connection to it all.

During Elise's 30+ years of experience she has been honored to work closely with health and wellness pioneers such as Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Daniel Amen, Dr. John Gray, and several others.

Dr. Ho holds multiple certifications and degrees including a Ph.D. in Natural Health and a doctoral degree in Naturopathic Psychology.