You Can Say “No” and Not Be a Jerk About It

You Can Say “No” and Not Be a Jerk About It

If there’s one thing I hate* about myself is that I’m a people pleaser

Why? Ugh. And I hate this, too. 

It’s because I like to make other people happy and I want to be liked.

I can’t believe I just “said” that all out loud … but it’s true.

Here’s one thing I know: I’m not alone. I know there are plenty of people out there, like me, who want to have boundaries, live their priorities, and be the main character in their life’s story. But when it comes to someone’s request that isn’t aligned to our intention, we cave. 

And it’s like candy – it tastes good in the moment, but the sugar high leads to a crash quickly.

The most important part of personal development is self-awareness, followed by self-management.

So, if you’re with me, you’re aware. Now, how can we all get better at managing ourselves? Try these few tricks, which work … I know because I’m practicing them right now.

  • Find a way to buy time. If someone comes at you with a request that you’re not certain is aligned to your priorities, thank them and say, “Wow, let me think this through and get back to you.” Then, think it through and, if the answer is “no,” say, “I’m grateful you’ve thought of me, but I can’t commit to this right now. I value our relationship and I don’t want to be a flake.”
  • Use humor to say “no.” Humor is a great tension reliever. If your child’s school comes at you with a request, and you know you can’t do it, rather than list all the things you’ve done already, just share, “I’m sure that’s what you need right now – a volunteer who commits but can’t ‘show up?!’ I’m going to pass on this one but keep me in mind for future activities. You need reliable help, and I can’t offer that right now.”
  • Just say “no.” Believe it or not, “no” is a complete sentence. Maybe smile while you say it?
  • Tell someone you’re on a “yes” diet. You can be honest, and just say – “I’ve got a history of over-committing. I can’t commit right now, though I really want to. Thank you for understanding.”

Okay, I’ve got some caveats, too.

Be careful when you say “no” when:

  • It’s actually a priority connected to your job. Rather than say “no” to your manager, ask for a discussion about priorities. Sometimes managers are idea generators and forget that you’re actually the one doing the work … and you’re still working on their good ideas from two months ago.
  • You’ve been pushing back a lot latelyalmost too much. There are situations where we can be so rigid with our own agenda at work that we forget that we also need to be in customer service mode. No one wants to be the manager of the “No Department.” So, before you say “no,” consider someone else’s priorities.
  • If you haven’t been performing consistently. If you’ve missed some deadlines, have been a bit inconsistent with your commitments, pushing back on a deadline or saying “no” might not be your best move because you could further damage your credibility with your requester. And if this sounds like you, get to work – get to be the steady, reliable leader you know you can be because credibility is the foundation of influence. 

I’d love to hear your tips and tricks, too. Email me at:

*Hate is a strong word. I actually love myself. ☺ But we can get annoyed with ourselves, can’t we? Who doesn’t like a little hyperbole from time to time … and the opportunity to use the word “hyperbole” in a sentence?


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