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How to Gracefully Say “No” Without Feeling Selfish

How to Say No
Written by Ellen Goldman

It’s human nature to want to say “yes” to requests and invitations we receive. After all, if they are kind enough to ask us, isn’t it impolite or even selfish to say ”no”?

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It’s human nature to want to say “yes” to requests and invitations we receive. After all, if they are kind enough to ask us, isn’t it impolite or even selfish to say ”no”? Read on to learn out to gracefully say “no”.


One of the most common causes of stress in today’s crazy world is trying to cram too much into too little time. I see it all around me. When I speak to business professionals, they constantly complain that the demands on their time are overwhelming. Working moms are struggling to juggle all they do for their jobs, homes and children. Entrepreneurs are often squeezing in networking, new business opportunities, day-to-day operations, and time for family, friends and self-care.

Way too many people seem exhausted, overwhelmed, guilty, resentful, and frankly, just plain frustrated. Is anyone having fun anymore? Or are we all so busy trying to be all things to all people, that time for fun, relaxation and rest are at a minimum? Are you ready to decrease the stress and simplify your life?

If the answer is a resounding “Yes,” it may be as easy to accomplish as learning to say “No.” Why is it that such a simple word is often so difficult to say? We would like to believe that we could do it all, have it all and be the one others can always count on. However, we need to be realistic about what we can and cannot accomplish and what is and isn’t important to us.

It’s human nature to want to say “yes” to requests and invitations we receive. After all, if they are kind enough to ask us, isn’t it impolite or even selfish to say ”no”? Not necessarily. Saying “no” is actually honoring your current commitments and being realistic about what will keep you happy and sane.

So if you find your days overflowing with activities or jobs you are not enjoying, or you are not advancing in the direction you would like to be in your career, dreams and life purpose, try some Tips to Gracefully Say No Without Feeling Selfish.

1. Take some time to evaluate the request before giving your answer. Simply say, “I need some time to see if I can fit this into my schedule, so I’ll have to get back to you.” Do a cost-benefit analysis. How much time will this take and do you have the time to do it well? Is this something you’ll feel good about doing, or will saying yes lead to an increase in stress and resentment?
2. Trust your gut and intuition. If you get a slightly sick feeling in your stomach when you think about the request, chances are it’s something you really don’t want to do, or don’t have the time for. If the request sends a bolt of energy and excitement through you, chances are it’s something you’ll enjoy and benefit from saying yes to.
3. Be firm. If the answer is “no,” say so. Don’t give a wishy-washy answer. Saying, “I don’t think so,” or “Maybe…” implies that you might change your mind and say yes later. That will lead to more stress when the request comes a second or third time.
4. Give a brief explanation without being overly apologetic. The simpler the better. “Thanks for thinking of me, but I have too much on my plate right now.”
5. Be respectful. “I admire what you are doing/ I know this is a really worthy cause, however, I am involved in too many other things right now to take this on.”
6. Be honest. Making up a long winded story or reason why you need to say no will not make anyone feel better about your response, and may very possibly lead to you looking insincere or even like a liar.
7. Say “yes” to something you can feel good about. If the job or cause is something you value and care about, but the time required is too great, perhaps there is a compromise. You may not be able to be on the planning committee for your school’s award ceremony, but you might be able to help out the evening of the event.
8. If the request is coming from your boss or supervisor, clarify the priorities. If saying yes to one more work project will keep you at the office all night, ask for clarification of your priorities. Simply explain that saying yes to this request will take time away from your other responsibilities, and ask which is the higher priority. Chances are your boss is unaware of how much you are already handling, and will delegate some of the work to another employee.

Saying “no” is not something to feel guilty about, but something to feel proud of. It means you recognize the things that are of great value to you, and devote the proper amount of time and attention to those things. By saying no, you open up the time to pursue new and different interests. You may even open up possibilities for others. Sure you’ve gotten great satisfaction and accolades for being the president of your organization, but isn’t it time for you to give another that chance!

Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life – Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.™ Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. Their answers can be random and in the moment or they can be aligned with the above article. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.

1. What have you accepted within your life, physically and/or mentally? What are you still working on accepting?

I have learned that as much as I might want to say “yes” to requests for my time and/or help, it’s not always possible. If saying yes will cause me to feel increased stress, resentful or angry, it’s not doing anyone (me or the person posing the request) any good for me to do so. I only want to say yes when I have the time and desire to deliver 100%.

2. What have you learn to appreciate about yourself and/or within your life, physically and mentally? What are you still working on to appreciate?

I appreciate that I know how to create boundaries around the different dimensions of my life, and they are created based on my values. I am able to give fully to my family, friends, career and self in a way that leaves me feeling balanced and authentic.

3. What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What makes YOU most proud? What goals and dreams do you still have?

One of my most rewarding achievements is to have grown an entrepreneurial business that is thriving, and never at the cost of my personal life. My goal is to take my business to the next level, so that I can reach many more people with my message, and still enjoy time to myself and my loved ones.

4. We all have imperfections, so we think. The truth—we are all perfectly imperfect. What are your not-so-perfect ways? What imperfections and quirks create who you are—your Identity?

Truth be told, I’m a bit of an organization and neat freak. I like everything in it’s place, and actually enjoy straightening up and cleaning out closets and drawers. I’ve been known to make my bed at 5PM if I didn’t have the chance to do so in the morning. It just feels so much better getting into straightened rather than crumbly sheets.

5. “I Love My…” is an outlet for you to express and appreciate all the positive traits that make you…well… YOU! Sharing what you love about yourself will make you smile, feel empowered, and uplift your spirit and soul. (we assure you!) Identity challenges you to complete the phrase “I Love My…?”

I love my home. Far from designer perfect, but it reflects my family’s taste and personality. Others find it warm and welcoming and there’s a great flow for parties. We love having family and friends hang out and relax with us, whether it’s on the deck in the summer, or around the fireplace in the winter.

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About the author

Ellen Goldman

Ellen Goldman created EllenG Coaching to help overextended business professionals and entrepreneurs who are worried about their health and happiness, and are either exhausted, burnt out, out of shape, overweight, or all of the above! Through her coaching programs, motivational talks and online courses, she shows clients how to integrate health into their busy lifestyles with simple, small steps that lead to massive change, resulting in greater energy, focus, productivity and happiness every day. With 30 plus years experience in the health and fitness industries, working as a personal trainer and certified wellness coach while raising her family, Ellen knows first hand that you do not need to sacrifice your health and happiness to have a successful career. Her mission is to help others thrive both personally and professionally. To learn more about Ellen and her wellness programs, visit www.EllenGcoaching.com

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