David Strittmatter

You must learn to say no

It’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on what’s important. – Steve Jobs


  • We tend to have a desire to please everyone & maintain harmony
  • Not saying no upfront raises wrong expectations & causes exhaustion, stress, & irritation
  • Drawing the line on when to say yes allows you to make more room for the things that really matter to you

Practical advice:

  • Keep your response simple – be firm & direct
  • Don’t respond right away
  • Offer an alternative – if you want to accept the offer but can’t

Dear friend,

How often were you asked to come to an event – let’s say a birthday party – you didn’t intend to go to in the first place, but instead of declining the invitation, you said yes to it?

How often were you asked to help someone with something you didn’t want to do, but you still couldn’t say no?

Almost every day we face these situations (invitations, offers, favors, requests, etc.) in which we are forced to provide a clear answer, say either no or yes. Too many times, though, we fail to give a negative response even though we really don’t want to invest our precious time into these occurrences.

But why are we so reluctant to speak out loudly these two letters?

In today’s article, I share my thoughts on why saying no feels so hard, why it’s so important to say no, and how we can do it more easily.

Why saying no feels so hard

There’re various reasons why we don’t want to reject invitations, offers, favors, etc.

Most often, we don’t want to appear negative, upset, or offend another person, or worry about possible social or professional repercussions. Moreover, we tend to have a desire to please everyone and maintain harmony.

The actual rationale underlying our resistance to giving others a negative response is quite paradoxical. On the one hand, we don’t want others to feel negative when we give them a no. On the other hand, we then create a very inconvenient situation for ourselves.

Why being able to say no is vital

Raise wrong expectations

When we accept an invitation or grant our help for a project but then cancel it a few days before the event, we not only severely harm the relationship with the person whom we made the promise to but also take the trouble to give a negative response anyway. In these cases, it’s so much easier to decline the request upfront. Don’t be this person no one takes seriously.

Exhaustion, stress, & irritation

Just imagine, you got this invitation to the birthday party of a colleague whom you don’t really like. You would rather sit alone at home and clean your whole apartment than taking part in this event.

Foolishly, though, you didn’t give a clear no to your colleague when he invited you to the party and let him convince you to come to the event. On top, you don’t want to appear rude; thus, spontaneously canceling and not going are not options for you. Simply thinking about the party, though, induces stress and unease in you. Being unable to say no can make you exhausted, stressed, and irritable.

Priorities & opportunity costs

Not being able to give a negative response to another person can be draining. Drawing the line on when to say yes allows you to make more room for the things that really matter to you. For instance, health, sports, and sleep are very important to me. Saying yes to each and every party would make me sacrifice these priorities. Moreover, saying yes to something you don’t like implies saying no to all the other things you like even more or that are much better for you.

How to say no more easily

Concluding, saying no doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It eliminates unrealistic expectations and avoids giving false hope or leading the other person on. It’s an essential skill to have because you need to set boundaries to really make time for meaningful activities.

What can we do if we struggle to give a negative response to requests?

Keep your response simple

If you want to say no, be firm and direct. This will take practice and courage at first, but you will get used to it.

Be kind but don’t over-apologize. Remember, you’re not asking permission to say no, and it’s just fine that you have other priorities.

Avoid details. If you go into details, you run the risk of being talked out of your no into an insincere yes.

Don’t respond right away

You aren’t sure yet or don’t feel comfortable saying in the very moment? Use phrases like “I’ll get back to you”, “I don’t know yet, I’ll think about it”, or “Thank you, but I cannot give you a response right away”. Consider your options. Having thought it through, you’ll be able to say no with greater confidence.

“Next week, I’ll have a house party, do you want to come, too?” →”Thank you for the kind invitation, but I cannot give you a no or yes right away. I’ll get back to you, all right?”

Offer an alternative

If you want to accept an offer but can’t, don’t be hesitant to suggest a future opportunity. For example: “I’m not able to join you at this time, but how about you text me in a week and we can regroup?”

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