How to Say No Confidently

Do you find it difficult to say no to people?  Many of us do.  Many of us don’t like to let people down and try to please people. Many of us are worried about the reaction of the other person when we do say no.

But, we have to realise at some point that we can’t say yes to everyone.  It puts us at risk of utilising the precious time that we should be spending on completing things on our agenda, not other peoples.

In the book The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes by William Ury, the author explains that there are three responses to someone who asks us to do something we don’t want to do:

Accommodation – We say yes when we want to say no.  This usually happens when we value the relationship of the person asking above the importance of our interests.

Attack – We say no poorly.  Sometimes we are fearful or resentful of the request and overreact to the person making the request.

Avoidance – We say nothing.  We may be afraid of offending the other person, so we say nothing and hope it all goes away.  But, it rarely does.

Sometimes the above responses spill over into each other, making the situation a whole lot worse.

William Ury suggests a fourth strategy or response that doesn’t require us to sacrifice our priorities or the relationships that we have with others.  He describes it as a positive no.

This simple formula employs a YES – NO – YES response.

This ‘Positive No’ has three parts:

Yes.  It begins by saying yes to yourself and protecting what is important to you

No.  It then moves on with a matter-of-fact No that sets clear boundaries

Yes.  A positive no ends with a yes that affirms the relationship and offers another solution to the request.

So, for example:

Thank you for considering me to do this task for you – the yes

Unfortunately, I can’t do this for you as I have other pressing things to do that have deadlines that can’t be moved – the no.

You could try asking Joe to do this for you, or I can offer you some help on this day when I have less to do.

People’s reactions to no tend to be negative as we don’t always explain the reasons or provide alternative solutions.

Another idea would be to change the structure of the sentence that we use when we do say no. For example, we might normally say:

‘No, I can’t do that as I’m busy working on something else. But, What I can have a look at it tomorrow as I’ll have more time then’.

We say no. We explain why, then we offer an alternative.

The issue with is that the No becomes a ‘blocking word’. Not much more is heard after that. What we could do is move the no to later in the sentence. Better still, get rid of it altogether. For example:

‘What I can do is look at this tomorrow for you as I’m busy working on something else right now.’

As you can see, we lead with the positive and end with the explanation. We don’t use the word no at all.

These are just two examples of what you could do to say no


Do you struggle to say no?  Then why not attend one of our Assertiveness Skills Training Courses.

Our Assertiveness Skills Training Courses offer lots of practical help in saying no, building better relationships, communicating more effectively and confidently.