Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

How To Adult And Say No

It’s just two letters long and the same across so many languages. So why is the word “no” sometimes so hard to say?


“No” might mean missing out on a fun dinner with friends. “No” might mean upsetting your boss. But more than anything, “no” means feeling like a jerk.

And that just doesn’t feel good.

So how do you deal with the disease to please?

Firstly, know that saying “no” doesn’t automatically make you a jerk. We only feel that way. But more often than not our “no” doesn’t have as big of an impact as we think.

Unless you’re the only one right for the job, the person who asked you the favor can ask someone else.

So saying “no” isn’t selfish, it’s an act of self-care. It’s deciding that the favor isn’t important enough to push aside your current worries and goals.

With the psychology out of the way, how do you say “no” gracefully?

  1. Be more explicit in communicating your boundaries and time. Suppose you’re about to have a lunch meeting on a busy day. Once you sit down with your lunch buddy, say, “Before we get started, know that I only have 60 minutes to do lunch. Can’t go a second over. Sorry.” And actually leave after 60 minutes—don’t let the meeting bleed into your other commitments.
  2. Contemplate your answer. Many favors don’t have an immediate deadline. So give it some time and reply, “That sounds interesting. Give me a few hours to think it over.”
  3. Don’t kid yourself with a favor that’s set in the future. If you aren’t willing to do it tomorrow, you won’t want to do it a year from now.
  4. If an immediate answer is due, be honest. “Thanks for considering me to work on your project. But I’m swamped and won’t be able to give the project the attention it deserves. Here’s someone who can.” Which brings me to the next point.
  5. Offer an alternative. Which could be suggesting another expert who can solve the problem. But the alternative could also be a less demanding contribution from you, or a date in the future where you have more time.

And please, whatever you do, don’t be overly apologetic. Own your “no”.

Which is much easier when you realize that “no” means saying “yes” to the big, exciting, and meaningful stuff that enriches the lives of you and your loved ones.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach