Millions of people are so addicted to approval and so fearful of confrontation and rejection that their “Yes” habit has serious emotional and physical consequences. When we suffer from the “disease to please,” we try to make others happy at the detriment of our own happiness. And happiness is actually an internal process so we can’t really make anyone else happy. So, saying, “No” is actually a generous thing to do. It stops us making insincere commitments, feeling resentful and ensures that we create healthy boundaries and encourage others to do the same.

Of course, we don’t start saying “No” to everything; we say “Yes” to the things that matter. This is what I like to call the “Nice No” because it allows us to value ourselves, our time and to choose where we want to invest our energy. Next time someone tries to make demands on your time, energy and resources, remember that you have the power to choose. You owe it to yourself – and them – to choose wisely. This requires you to be deliberate and purposeful, especially if you are breaking a well ingrained habit. This requires making new connections in your brain. This is possible, liberating and has so many positive benefits for you and others. I know because I’ve experienced this for myself and have so many coaching clients who keep telling me that the fears they had about saying “No” (like disappointing others and being seen as uncooperative and so on) have been stamped out and replaced by an enormous sense of empowerment.

Let’s explore some ways that we can take Key Steps to honour boundaries and say “No” nicely and…

‘be the difference that makes the difference.’

  1. The Direct No. “No, I am unable to attend the meeting.” This is a somewhat blunt no and possibly best used as a last resort but might be needed.
  2. The Reflecting No. In this softer version, you acknowledge the content and feeling of the request while still maintaining your own boundary. “I know you’ve been so busy lately too. I just can’t do it this week.”
  3. The Reasoned No. Give a brief and genuine reason for refusing, without opening negotiations. “No, I can’t help you complete the project. I have two big projects due in June myself.”
  4. The Pain Now or Pain Later No. This is one of the kindest things you can say if you really don’t think you have the time to do something. “I’m not sure how things will shape up with my schedule, so I’d rather say, “No,” today than have to disappoint you later, when it will be harder to find someone else.”
  5. The No Sandwich. In this one, you recognise the value of the relationship, refuse the request and thank them for asking. “I know this project is really important to you.  I just can’t see a way I can help promote it right now. I do appreciate your asking me.”
  6. The Broken Record No. Use this when someone is trying to wear you down by begging, flattery or sweetening the deal. It can be hard to ignore the repetitive attempts at manipulation, but it is possible. If you don’t, you teach the requester (whether it is your manager, client or child) that nagging or bullying, in some cases, gets the results they wanted. So, it is important that if you start the broken record no, you plan to follow through. Otherwise it might be better to use the “Yes If No” (see no. 7 below). Here’s what the “Broken Record No” sounds like in response to a request for assistance on a project:
    “No, I am unable to help with this project because [reason].” “But nobody does this as well as you do.”
    “Thank you. I appreciate the feedback and know how busy you are too. I just can’t help with this project.” “But I promised I’d get your support.”
    “No, I am unable to help with this project.” “It’ll give you such great visibility with senior management.”
    “I’d rather be honest with you than disappoint you down the line when I am unable to deliver.” “But there is no-one else to do it and it isn’t going to look good if you don’t assist.”
    “As mentioned, I really can’t help you with this project.
    I hope you find the support you need.”
    [And you might need to keep going….]


  7. The Yes If No. This is the negotiator’s “No.” You state the conditions under which you can meet the request. “Yes, I can help you with this project if someone else in the team completes my month end report and if you can give me all the info by 12 June. Can you commit to these two things?”
  8. The Sleeping No. “I’ll let you know tomorrow, after I’ve had time to think about it and review my schedule.” Thinking about the request overnight will remind you that this is your decision. You may actually even decide to say, “Yes.”

What “No” can you imagine yourself using to take Key Steps to ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’


NOTE: The information in my blog may be freely shared and re-used in any online or offline publication, provided it is accompanied by the following credit line: This was written by Dr Sharon King Gabrielides, and originally appeared in her free weekly  ‘Key Steps Food for Thought Blog’ available on the Key Steps website.

Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

About Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

Sharon is a dynamic facilitator, speaker and executive coach with over 25 years’ experience in leadership development and organisational transformation. Her PhD thesis contributed a framework for holistic and sustainable leadership development that was published by Rutgers University in the USA. She is faculty of numerous business schools and highly sought-after by leading corporates because she works hand-in-hand with them to create sustainable results and long-term success. In 2020, Sharon was inducted into the Educators Hall of Fame, which is a lifetime achievement award, recognising excellence and her contribution to the field.

Sharon is one of only three women in South Africa to have achieved the title of
Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) – the Oscar of the speaking industry. She is also a COMENSA Master Practitioner (CMP), a qualified Modern Classroom Certified Trainer (MCCT™) and an accredited Global Virtual Speaker. Sharon is also a registered Education, Training and Development Practitioner (ETDP), holds an Honours degree in Psychology and practices as an NLP master practitioner.

Most important to Sharon is that she has become known for her genuinely caring manner, practical and transformational approach, and for providing valuable tools and that allow people to take Key Steps to really… ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’