5 Tips to Say “No” with Kindness, Ease and Grace!

Woman being thoughtful about saying no on blue background

Have you noticed that it’s usually important things that get impacted when we don’t say “No” like quality time with ourselves or our family, our health—and our stress levels?

Saying “No” is an essential part of living a happy and fulfilled life. And with endless activities and distractions both online and in the “real” world, this is more true than ever. So as we head into the busy holiday season, it’s the perfect time to practice the skill of setting boundaries and saying “No”!

Take me straight to the Saying “No” Tips >>

No is power!

We’ve all seen children stomping their feet, thoroughly enjoying saying “No!”. That’s because at around 2 years old, saying “No” is our very first taste of power…

It’s an extremely important stage for children, and it’s normal, healthy and essential for a child’s mental development and growing autonomy.

What happened to our ability to say “No”?

So why is it so hard to say “No” as an adult? What happened?

Well, as toddlers we have no concept of anyone else’s needs but our own. We need to get taught that we’re not the centre of the universe—that other people have feelings, wants and needs too. Plus, our “No” might even put us in danger…

So we gradually learn that adults get to decide and ‘know what’s best’ for us. Our “Nos” get ignored, over-ridden, ridiculed and corrected. And many of us were even threatened or shamed when we said “No”: Think about other people for once! Stop being so selfish! I’ll _____ if you don’t do what I say. Do as you’re told and be ‘good’ (which means we’re ‘bad’ if we don’t).

No wonder our “No” loses its power!

Saying “No” upset our parents. And sometimes bad things happened when we said “No”, so we learned to say “Yes” to stay safe, accepted, loved and cared for.

The dangers of “Yes”

Now that we’re adults there are so many options and possibilities. It can be overwhelming: whatever we want to do, learn, wherever we want to travel, it’s all available to us. Literally anything is possible.

Technology allows us to be in contact with everyone at all times. And then on top of that we have to make hundreds of choices and (micro) decisions each and every day. Is it any wonder we’re in a state of overload?

So here are some key tips around setting boundaries and saying “No” to help you this holiday season—and beyond!

5 Tips to Say No with Kindness, Ease and Grace

1) Be Clear and Up Front!

When we try to ‘soften the blow’ by going into long explanations and avoiding saying an outright “No”, all it does is confuse—and potentially embarrass—the other person. Plus it also gives boundary bullies an “in” to try and change your mind.

So don’t give mixed messages: instead make sure your “No” is clear and up front!

Try saying this calmly and firmly:

  • No. I’m sorry but that doesn’t work for me.

Easy, graceful—and super-clear!

Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind. Brené Brown

2) The other “Know”—your Priorities

It’s hard to say “No” clearly when we don’t know why we’re saying it.

To say “No” effectively, you need to be in touch with what’s important to YOU—your priorities today, this week/month/year and in life!

For many of us, step 1 here is is to pause. Listen to your heart and trust your gut or intuition. Then, when you notice that inner nudge, fizzy stomach, tense jaw—whatever your signs are that something is not quite right—use that to notice you’re going against your priorities and help you say “No”.

Below are some examples of how knowing your priorities makes it easy to say no clearly, kindly and with grace.

Here are some examples. Imagine:
  • You know you must get your driver’s license renewed today, and a friend invites you out for lunch…
    • Now you can say: No, sorry, today’s the last day I can renew my driver’s license.
  • Your partner is away this week. As well as taking care of your children, you know have an aging in-law to manage. You’re asked to participate in a bake sale on Sunday…
    • Now you can say: No, sorry, I’m taking care of my kids and my in-laws this week and I’m fully booked.
  • Your teenager/best friend/partner has had a really rough month. You know they need you, yet you’re asked at short notice to: attend a work do/take someone else’s kids to school/stand in for someone as a volunteer…
    • Now you can say: No, sorry, my teenager/best friend/partner is having a rough time and needs me, so I’m not taking on anything extra.
  • After a stressful year, you finally have two days free of commitments (after months of busyness!). Maybe you’ll do some cleaning/go for a hike/get a massage/do some gardening—or just plain nothing! Heaven! And now you’re asked to stand-in at work for someone who’s sick…
    • Now you can say: No, sorry. I’d love to help but this is my first day off for months and I’ve already made plans. (Even if it’s just plans with yourself!)

So, what are your priorities?

Because when your priorities are clear you have a ready-made easy way to say “No”!

3) Understand the COST of your “Yes”…

We all have  a limited amount of time each day with more “to do” than ever.

By saying “Yes” to one thing, you are automatically saying “No” to something else.

So pause to consider:

  • If you say “Yes”, what’s the cost to you?
  • What will you miss out on?
  • Specifically what will—and won’t—happen if you say “Yes”?

4) And FOCUS on the Benefits of saying “No”

When we’re clear on the benefits of saying “No” we have something positive (and possibly exciting) to move towards. And this gives us the motivation we need to rise to the challenge of saying “No”.

So once you know the cost of your “Yes”, now consider:

  • What are the benefits to you of saying “No”?
  • What will you get to do instead, if you say “No”?
  • If you’re struggling with this one, imagine looking back: What would you have done—if only you had said “No”?
2 powerful questions to help you make the right choice with examples
  1. If I say “Yes”, what am I saying “No” to?
    • For example, if you say “Yes” to helping out at the School Bake Sale on Saturday morning, are you saying “No” to a walk with your best friend, a pedicure you’ve been looking forward to, taking your child swimming, getting your holiday shopping finished etc.
  2. If I say “No”, what am I saying “Yes” to?
    • NOTE: these may be different answers to above!
    • For example. if you say “No” to helping out at that school bake sale on Saturday morning, maybe you’re saying yes to your first sleep-in for weeks and a relaxing weekend with no outside commitments. Maybe you’re saying “Yes” to you, your family and/or friends.

Being clear on the benefits and costs to you of someone’s request will help you say “No” (if you need to) with more ease, clarity and grace.

5) Say “Yes” to the Person, but “No” to the Request!

As we know all too well, our “No” may feel like a rejection to the other person. And this makes it hard to say “No” because we don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings.

But if we don’t ‘hurt their feelings’ then we’ll be hurting our ‘self’ instead…

To say “No” it really helps us to think of it like this:

  • Say “Yes” to the person, but “No” to the request.

So you’re not rejecting the person or relationship, you’re rejecting the request. And this makes it easier, allowing you to love or be kind to the person even as you’re saying “No”…

Bonus tip for Boundary Bullies

6) The Broken Record Technique

As well as being clear, we may also need to be super-firm—especially with boundary bullies and repeat offenders who aren’t used to hearing us say “No”.

So if someone is pushing you, or keeps asking more and more questions to try to get you to “Yes”, stay firm and use “The Broken Record Technique”.

How The Broken record Technique works when saying “No”:

  • Don’t get drawn into a discussion.
  • Have a phrase ready like, “I’m sorry, I’m unavailable”, “I already have other commitments” or “I’m sorry but I can’t right now”.
  • And then, just like a record that skips because of a scratch, simply:
    • Say your phrase calmly (don’t rush it) and firmly.
    • Then repeat it each time you’re asked another question or another suggestion is made.
    • Repeat it even when you think you’ve been pushed into a corner like when someone says But you have to! _____ will/won’t ____ unless you ____.
  • After a few (3/4/5) calm, firm statements saying the same thing, people will realise your “No” means “No” and leave you alone.

This technique may be uncomfortable but it’s easy to remember, clear and kind (as long as you stay calm).

And importantly, it’s also probably the fastest method to get someone persistent to leave you alone…

Here’s the Takeaway:

It’s time to respect and esteem your ‘self’!

In this busy, modern world there will always be more to do than time available. But what makes the difference between people who’ve created a meaningful and happy life—and people who are stressed and overwhelmed—is one word: No.

Re-learning to say “No” (clearly and kindly) helps us:

  • Find a healthy balance between doing for others—and taking care of our own needs.
  • Building our confidence, self-esteem and becoming more resilient.
  • Discover our values and priorities: we learn who we are—by seeing what truly matters to us.

So will you respect and esteem your ‘self’ by being more conscious about your choices? Will you say “Yes” to things that align, enrich and enliven your life and begin to say “No” to things that drain you or conflict with your values?


Fierce Kindness Logo

Saying “No” is an important stage for children. But it’s also an important stage for adults. And as an adult you have the power to choose.

So whether you learn to say “No” more often, or just learn to say “Yes” on your terms, it’s time to release yourself from the burden of pleasing others.

Give yourself time and freedom to be, and do, what matters to you. Let’s get started!

No is just a word—two small letters that set you free! Emma-Louise Elsey

If you enjoyed this article on learning to say “No”, you may also like:

Change the world. Start with you!

Image of Happy, Confident Woman Pondering Saying No by Kraken Images


    • Emma-Louise Elsey

      Hi Cherry, I’m so glad you found this article helpful—and a new technique to use 🙂
      Thank-you for taking the time to comment too!
      Warmly, Emma-Louise

    • Emma-Louise Elsey

      Hi Christine, thank-you for taking the time to comment 🙂
      I’m so glad you enjoyed this article on saying no – with kindness.
      Warmly, Emma-Louise


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