5 Reasons You Won’t Say ‘No’ – and Maybe Never Will

By Susan Ritchie

How do I say ‘no’?

This is one of the most frequent questions I’m asked. My usual response became a chapter in my book last year – a recipe for saying no that works. Most of the time.

However, recent experience has taught me that there are occasions when saying ‘no’ will prove to be extremely challenging.  I say this as someone who has recently turned down a request, knowing there would be major repercussions.

I was uncomfortable about saying no, and very nearly caved in and agreed. It was the physical reaction I had to the request that stopped me. In the end I said ‘no’ and faced the consequences, something I was prepared for. But just what was it about saying ‘no’ that made me feel so uncomfortable?

Here are the 5 reasons you won’t say ‘no’, and maybe never will.

Do these sound familiar?



1. To ease someone else’s workload. Your ‘no’ invariably turns into someone else’s ‘yes’. This can be tough to handle. However, someone else’s inability to say ‘no’ or not set their own boundaries, is not your responsibility. It’s really not – understand this. It’s not always easy to feel comfortable with this way of thinking, but with practice, it gets easier.

2. To lessen your own feelings of guilt. If  you’ve managed number 1, you may be feeling guilty. But is it guilt you’re feeling, or a misplaced sense of responsibility? The truth is, guilt can often mask a deeply hidden belief in our own importance. You won’t be the only person who can carry out the other person’s request  – there will be others. And what other emotion could you choose to feel instead of guilt/responsibility? What else might be more helpful  – to them and you?

3. To maintain the image someone has of you. If you’ve spent your life being a people pleaser/always done a good job/you’re the one we can rely on/everyone loves me…(you get the picture), then maybe it’s time you grew up. Sounds harsh? This was a tough lesson for me. People pleasing is an addictive way to behave and the result is that so much of your identity is tied up with other people’s perceptions of you. This means your opinion of yourself depends on theirs. But life isn’t like that. In the real world, we can’t expect to be liked all the time and learning to stand up for yourself necessarily involves letting the halo slip. But you know what? It’s ok – you’ll survive.

4. Because it’s what we do around here. At work, there may be things that happen that have become accepted custom and practice over time. It doesn’t mean it’s right, healthy (or even legal!). If you can get the hang of numbers 1,2 and 3, then you’ll be in a much better place to begin to deal with this tricky phrase. Understanding what works well for you and learning to communicate that is a way forward. Set some boundaries and demonstrate that your way of working reaps rewards .

5. Because you’re scared not to. It’s worth noting that saying ‘no’ will have repercussions. You need to be prepared for these. I have found that most of the time, saying ‘no’ has had no lasting major effects. It has often felt like a huge thing to me, but other people move on pretty quickly. Decide how important saying ‘no’ is – pick your ‘no’s carefully and make them matter. Be in a place of positive intent, not negatively fuelled resentment or stubbornness. Act from your core values and it’s easier to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.

At work, what have you said ‘no’ to? What was your experience of saying it? What helped? Or is it something you’re still waiting to be able to say?

Susan Ritchie, Confidence Mentor

My name is Susan Ritchie and I work with professional women and female entrepreneurs to help them have more presence and personal impact at work. If you’d like help learning how to say ‘no’, then A Woman of Power, a one day workshop, may just be what you’re looking for. Lincoln and London dates available.

Email sue@youtimecoaching.co.uk for information about working with me on a 1:1 basis, or working with your team