It’s a complete sentence all wrapped up in one word, so why does it feel so difficult to formulate sometimes? If you have people-pleasing tendencies (or sometimes, even if you don’t), it can be difficult to say no to someone you love or care about—even when you know that “no” is the best possible answer.

Saying “no” can help you reclaim your time and a sense of control over your life, and in the long term, it can save your sanity. Many of us have mastered the art of declining requests and standing by our boundaries, but for those of us still working on it, here are some practical, easy-to-implement ways you can say “no.”

  • “That doesn’t work for me.”
    • This is one I learned from my therapist years ago, and it’s come in handy for me plenty of times. For example: “Could you meet me at Starbucks in two hours to help me with a project?” is met with, “No, that doesn’t work for me today.” It offers more than just flat-out “no,” but you still don’t have to offer an explanation to the other person.
  • Start and end with an affirmation or positive remark.
    • In conversations about this, I always call it an “affirmation sandwich.” Start with a compliment or expression of gratitude, say no, and then end with another positive remark. This prevents the other party from becoming defensive or taking your “no” personally. For example: if someone invites you to their direct sales party and you don’t want to attend, simply say, “I appreciate the invitation, but I’ll need to decline. I hope you have a great time!” It’s straightforward but allows you to stand your ground while eliminating any possibility that you have ill will toward the asking person.
  • Don’t apologize (unless you mean it).
    • If you’re like me and you overuse the phrase, “I’m sorry,” it’s time to change that. If you committed to something initially and then had to back out, it’s appropriate to apologize for any inconvenience. However, if you’re simply saying no because you don’t want to do something or aren’t able to, there’s no need to apologize. Instead, you could say, “Unfortunately, I can’t do that.” You still acknowledge that the outcome isn’t optimal for the other person, but you don’t apologize for living your life and holding your boundaries.
  • Repeat yourself.
    • If someone continues to push after you say no, it’s completely okay (and appropriate!) to repeat the exact phrase you used to say “no” the first time! You know what you want or need, and you can’t be badgered into saying yes if it’s not what’s best for you. Further, if someone asks you something multiple times and the answer is still “no,” politely request that they stop asking you that same question.

No matter how you choose to say “no,” it’ll take practice. All too often, many of us say yes because it makes us uncomfortable to decline something. In time and with proactive practice, that uncomfortable feeling goes away. Master the power of graciously saying “no,” and you’ll slowly but surely restore full control of your schedule and headspace.


Allie was born and raised in Georgia, and moved to Nashville after graduating from the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!). She’s a freelance writer, an old soul, and a chronic DIY-er. Connect with Allie at