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20 Ways to Say No

Because saying yes when you don’t want to or shouldn’t could be wrecking your chances for the life you deserve.

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Harkiran Kalsi
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No. Nope. Naw. Heck no.

Simple, right? Not really.

“It can be hard for Black women to say no, because oftentimes we’re afraid of how the boundaries we’ve set around our time, energy and needs will be received by others,” says Sonja Malcolm, a licensed professional counselor and owner of Mindspring Wellness Counseling in New Jersey. “We don’t want to hurt or offend people, be perceived as being selfish or risk losing the relationship,” she explains. Plus, there’s the whole thing of us being raised to show up and be everything for everybody we care about in our lives.

Still, as difficult as it is, you should make “no” a regular part of your vocabulary. It’s good for your mental (and physical) health because you won’t be overwhelmed and worn out. It allows you to focus your energy on what’s most important (and enjoyable) to you. And Malcolm says setting boundaries and saying no can actually preserve, not destroy, relationships, because it can help prevent feelings of frustration and resentment that can harm connections.

Setting boundaries and saying no can actually preserve, not destroy, relationships, because it can help prevent feelings of frustration and resentment that can harm connections.

With insight from Malcolm, the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley and The Book of No: 365 Ways to Say It and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever by Susan Newman, Ph.D., we’ve come up with a list of ways to say the big N-O — to whoever, whenever and for whatever.

1. “I have a lot to do and not much time. I’ll need to revisit this in a few months.”
“This informs the person that you’re busy, but leaves it open-ended enough to send the message that you care,” says Malcolm.
2. “Wednesday [or whatever day] isn’t good for me.”
3. “I can’t do … but I can …”
According to the Greater Good Science Center, this is a good way to turn something down while setting a boundary for what’s comfortable for you.
4. “No, that’s not really my thing.”
5. “I love helping you, but I need more advance notice when you need my assistance. I’m not able to this time.”
This is one you can use for that person who’s always asking for those last-minute favors that throw off your schedule, says Malcolm.
6. “I appreciate you asking, but I’m not taking on any more … right now.”
7. “I’ll pass. That’s out of my budget.”
8. “Absolutely not.”
 For those times someone has a crazy request.
 9. “That doesn’t work for me, but I definitely want to hang out with you. When else are you available?”
10. “After considering the other things I have going on, I realized I can’t take on anything else right now.”
“This one is great to use when you’ve already agreed to do something but need to back out,” Malcolm says.
11. “Not today.”
12. “My schedule is packed. Let’s connect early next month.”
13. “I can’t donate to your GoFundMe, but I wish you the best of luck.”
14. “Thank you for thinking of me. I have something else planned and won’t be able to attend.”
Malcolm says this is a good way to graciously say no without giving specifics or overexplaining.
15. “I’m not the right person. I suggest you find a [seamstress, babysitter, baker, therapist, whatever].”
16. “No, I can’t assume that responsibility.”
17. “I’m not able to do it, but I can refer you to someone else who might be able to help.”
“This is helpful to say when you feel a level of responsibility to what you’re being asked to do or the person who’s asking,” Malcolm says.
18. “I’t's not in my budget.”
19. “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m swamped this week.”
20. “No.”

“No is a complete sentence and should be used as often as necessary, without explanation and without guilt,” says Malcolm.

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