How to Say “No” Without the Guilt

Kevan Wright


Learning to say “no” is a valuable skill. The inability to do so places us in awkward and often, detrimental predicaments. We end up doing things we don’t like doing or don’t necessarily believe in. This, in turn, fosters resentment and anger. So, why do so many of us avoid saying,“no”?

It is no secret that most of us dislike and avoid confrontation, primarily due to the basic human need to be liked and accepted, and we certainly don’t want to offend, disappoint or be judged. As a result, we often end up compromising ourselves for the sake of keeping the peace.

Ask yourself the following questions next time the struggle to say “no” arises:

  1. If the situation were reversed, and the other person was to say “no” to me, how would I feel? Would I be offended or disrespected? Would I disrespect the other party purely because they were being sincere? In all likelihood, you wouldn’t – so why should they?

Put things into perspective – reluctantly saying “yes” just to please another at the expense of your own desires and wishes, has effectively allowed them to say “no” to what your preferences. How would you feel about that?

  1. If the other party found out later that your “yes” wasn’t entirely truthful, how would they feel then? What would happen to the future trust relationship? How could they believe you again?

Integrity is a fundamental social value in sustaining sound and long-lasting relationships. Declining a request or saying “no” may – at most – result in some short term awkwardness. The associated integrity yields long term dividends.

So, how do we alter our deeply entrenched people-pleasing behaviours? Here are some helpful tips:

  • Always be truthful – people respect the truth. Fabricating excuses leads to further discomfort and anxiety and the unnecessary burden of covering your tracks, not to mention the damaging repercussions of being discovered!
  • Rid yourself of guilt – you have the right to your own desires and wishes. Be true to yourself, and let go what others may think of you.
  • Keep it short – be brief when saying “no”. Don’t go into detail unless it is relevant and valid. You don’t owe an explanation.
  • Set boundaries – be available to serve and assist, but avoid dependencies, especially with friends and family. Others need to know where and when you can help, but that you’re not available to be taken advantage of.
  • Soften the message – if you’re uncomfortable with expressing an outright “no”, try to say something like, “I’d love to help you, but unfortunately I have other commitments.”
  • It’s not wrong to say “yes” – but be mindful of what you agree to. Don’t inconvenience yourself in order to please the other. 

  • Empower – where relevant, coach them to be able to do it themselves the next time. That way they don’t need to call on you as often.

So, the next time you’re in an uncomfortable and compromising predicament, give it a go – say no! What have you really got to lose?


Kevan WrightKevan Wright is a practicing business coach, mentor and facilitator. He assists in the development of individuals and businesses, including school leavers, graduates, start-up entrepreneurs as well as corporates. His primary focus is purposeful productivity, which encompasses the principles of engagement and alignment with purpose. Kevan’s successful 35-year career includes corporate positions as well as his own businesses. The most recent of which is Southern Cross Coaching & Consulting, a practice which he established in 2008. Follow @KevanWright on Twitter.