THE BLOG
01/21/2015 04:38 pm ET Updated Mar 23, 2015

You Can Say NO: 8 Ways to Refuse Gracefully

It is great to be open to life, experiences, people and things. And it is wonderful to throw open your arms and say YES. Sometimes, that is. There is actually more power in knowing when and how to say NO. And in many situations the best and healthiest decision is the one that leads to a refusal. It is saying NO that lets you define and protect your boundaries.

Having boundaries is a necessity. Boundaries say who you are and who you are not and what you will and will not do. They help you keep yourself "safe" and support your well-being. Having good boundaries means you are spending your time and energy wisely. YOU are in charge and you are doing the choosing. And being in a place of choice is where you always want to be.

Every time you say YES when you want to say NO, you are letting things into your life that should not be there. When you say YES when you want to say NO you are interpreting requests as demands that you have no choice in responding to. When you say YES to these, you are saying NO to yourself. From that moment you are making others requests more important than the commitments you have made to yourself. And putting others before yourself all the time is not a way to be liked, accepted or thought of as nice. It is a way to be thought of as a doormat, a pushover, etc. Saying NO means you are grounded and you know the ground you are willing to stand on, and you are clear about what you are willing to do. People have respect for those who are grounded and clear.

The three biggest fears that prevent us from saying NO and honoring our boundaries are that we will:

1) Be seen as too self-centered;
2) Hurt others; or
3) It will lead to either conflict or rejection.

But giving into those fears and saying yes can lead to anger, resentment, and even a kind of self-loathing. These feelings arise because of not honoring our own boundaries. The anger, frustration or sadness is not usually directed toward others, but toward ourselves. We are disappointed in our inability to stand our ground. Our boundaries can only be as clear and only as strong as the extent to which we support our own wants, limits, choices, and values. And to do that, we must learn how to say NO.

The key is to learn different, tactful ways to say NO, so you can refuse. Saying NO is not a big deal. Remember that if you do not really want to do it, then don't. Be diplomatic in the process and take care of your priorities. You also have to be honest with yourself and others. Then you can truly be there for those that matter.

So with honesty and diplomacy, you can now form ways to gracefully say NO. Here are a few examples of how to handle different situations.

How to say NO if you are asked to do something that goes against your values: The best option is to say NO quickly. Don't hesitate at all or the person making the request will think there is a chance you will change your mind. "No thank you, I don't drink." A next best choice is to make a sincere comment about the results you want to achieve: "I must commit all my time to ________ that is what is important to me right now."

How to say NO when you disagree with someone: In this case you can make a request to not discuss it further. "I think we should just agree to disagree on this one. It's not likely either of us is going to change our minds. Let's talk about something else." Or you can make a request for change. "You keep pressuring me to join you in talking badly about this person. Please do not ask me again."

How to say NO when someone suggests something you would like to consider:
"This does sound like something that may be for me. AND I have just committed to three other priorities right now. Will you come back in _____ days/weeks and give me another chance to consider this opportunity with you." This works because it acknowledges interest and keeps you from taking on more than you can complete.

How to Say NO when the timing is just not right: "I wish I could, but it is just not possible right now. Thank you for thinking of me." Your no is based on the timing and thanking the requester really helps. Be sincere. Other variations are: "Thanks for thinking of me, but I don't think so right now," or "I hate saying no to you, but I really must this time."

How to say NO when you have other priorities: "This year my priorities are very few but focused. I won't be able to squeeze this one in." Or "What a wonderful invitation, but I am just too stretched to accept it." Remember that you do not have to share your priorities with the other person.

How to say NO if you are just not interested in someone: In this situation honesty is best and there are a number of ways to say NO. "I am really flattered that you have asked me out, but I am not interested in dating right now, or I think we would be better as friends." Or "I am just starting a new relationship with someone else and would not want to jeopardize that."

How to say NO when you are asked to do something for free that you usually charge for: "I do pro bono work on a limited basis and that time has already been committed for this year. Would you like to be put on the waiting list for ________ (months) from now. I can do that!

The Soap Opera Dramatic NO: This is a catch all that can work in many situations. "Gosh, I really wish I could, but it's just (count to four silently)... impossible," and shake your head.