Learning How To Say No In The Age Of Busy, According To An Expert

...because sometimes you're worth it!

Tend to think ‘no’ means ‘no fun’? Well, it might be time to think again…

Let’s set the scene… It’s late Friday afternoon, you’ve been burning the candle at both ends and all that’s getting you through is the thought of taking a hot shower and curling up hygge style with Netflix and a bowl of warm, nourishing pho.
But, life has other plans… your BFF has texted you, she’s fighting with her partner and she wants a shoulder to cry on… for the third time this month.
Cue—the moral dilemma (and the reason we never say no).
Do you give in to the friend or put yourself first and indulge in a night of self-care to set yourself up for a busy weekend and another big week ahead? While you know the answer already, how do you possibly turn down a sobbing gal pal?

no
Image: iStock

In a culture where saying ‘yes’ and ‘doing it all’ is endorsed, the reality of learning how to say no can be a struggle, so to help Sporteluxe spoke with Dr John Demartini, Human Behaviour Specialist and acclaimed author who has written 40 books on human dynamics to get advice on how to master the art of saying no.

Why do we struggle with saying no—is there a biological reason?

“If we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, you have self actualisation at the top and survival needs at the bottom (such as food and shelter)—when we are vulnerable and in survival mode we live in our amygdala so we tend to want safety and don’t want to say no to the herd (as herds we don’t do well in isolation, we do well in a collective), but when we are empowered and in that self actualisation stage we choose to live by what’s most meaningful and don’t feel the need to get caught in conformity!”
“There is also an element of gut instinct, sometimes saying no can relieve a fear of a past situation or person and remind you of something bad associated with the last time you said no.”

Why is it important to say no?

“It’s so important to be discerning to what our true values are and how can you live a life that brings meaning to you and is in line with your highest values, which won’t happen if you don’t focus on them. You don’t want to scatter yourself trying to keep up with it all—it’s good to be able to say yes and no equally without emotions and diplomatically.”

What is the best way to gain the confidence to say no?

“It all begins by filling your day with high priority actions and inspiring things—when you have a full day or schedule and feel empowered, it’s generally easier to say no.”

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Image: iStock

What are the best ways to say no to the people we don’t want to?

1. Family and friends
“It can depend on the situation but overall, be as diplomatic as you can. If they act like a child throwing a tantrum, it won’t serve them to continue to work with emotional blackmail to get what they want. Instead of feeling threatened by them, understand that a close friend or family member shouldn’t disrespect you and give them feedback while being strict, for example: ‘This request fulfils your values but I don’t see how it will fulfil mine, if you can give me an alternative request that fulfils my values too that’s fine but if not I don’t want to undermine or compromise what matters to me right now.”

2. Boss


“If it’s your boss and you want to say no to their request, begin by finding out their values (for example deadlines and profits), in which case you could say: “ As a long term client of the company that’s brought in a lot of income, in order to sustain them, to get a higher profit margin and make you look better than the boss above, I’d prefer we stay with the original plan.”
3. Acquaintances
“Often here, bluntness saves you. Don’t beat around the bush, just get the point and learn to use your time efficiently. Even Donald Trump has scrapped hour meetings, he gives people 15 minutes to get to the point and for him to say yes or no. Remember, you can’t be a hero without also being a villain, that’s just life.”
“Keep it short and professional… here are some examples…”

  • “Thank you, but no thank you.”
  • “Thank you but my plate is full and I’d rather not give you only half my energy.”
  • “No thank you I’m married / have my eyes on someone else right now.”

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