This skill-teaching/ how-to/hack/lesson/script is for people who want or need to say no in certain situations.
We all want to say no to some things, but it can be hard to do. We might feel guilty, or be afraid to seem mean, or be afraid we will hurt or lose a friend if we say no. Having this extra layer of feelings on top of needing to say no can make it much harder to be true to ourselves. Guilt can also make us feel awkward, so our words don’t come across as assertive, clear, and kind to others.
This is a guide to getting your no across as clearly and kindly as possible.
Be Aware of Your Body Language
ALL communication is more about body language than words.
Your face is perhaps the most communicative part of your body. Consider the impact of saying NO with good eye contact, relaxed forehead and mouth, and head held high versus dropping your head and looking at the ground. Is your face squinched up in anxiety or anger or is it smiling, relaxed, and open? If the request that you are turning down is not an offensive one, then a smile and a head shake and a ‘no, thanks’ will often do the job without increasing anybody’s tension.
Practicing Postural Poise
Clarity starts with where you point your head, eyes, and heart. Are you turning toward the person to whom you are speaking? Are you moving towards the person or away? Clear, kind, and strong is partly communicated in how you straighten your spine, or slump, or lean. It’s about whether you carry your head and chin tall on your spine or scrunch your neck and jut your chin out or down.
Are you standing tall and are you firmly rooted where you stand? Or do you appear to be about to drift away, turn away, or run away. When you move, do you slink, schlump, vamp, stomp, or scurry? Or do you step out strong and confidently? Are your shoulders, arms, and hands limp and lifeless? Are they primed to do battle, crossed over your body? Or are they calm and confidently held? These body language factors invite respect, or fear, or they invite people to take care of you, push you around, or take advantage of your weakness for their benefit.
Our postures are difficult to be aware of, especially in an anxiety-producing situation. We don’t need to try to get all this ‘right’ all the time. Just begin to be more intentionally aware of your body and face and what they communicate to others. A trusted friend or family member can give you feedback if you ask. Mirrors are handy. Practice confidence (standing tall), or showing warmth (smiling and relaxed soft face), or receptivity to interaction (looking up and out at the scene or in the face of the person to whom you are attending). If you decide you need help with body awareness, dance class, cotillion, etiquette classes, and many types of physical training such as yoga, martial arts, or weight-lifting can help you develop the way you carry your body.
Notice Your Voice
Tone of voice and volume are powerful modifiers of the words we use. Are you trying to sound sweet, gentle, caring about someone else’s feelings? Is your voice pitched high, squeaky, nervous, breathy? Are you talking so softly people can’t hear you? Are you afraid to speak because your voice keeps cracking, breaking, going through the change? Do you tend to mumble? Are you loud, blunt and bold? What are you trying to project? Are you giving an impression that you don’t expect or want?
If you don’t know how your voice usually comes across, consider asking a few people who know you well. Take care of yourself by asking people who are capable of being honest and kind at the same time. (And consider how wonderful it is to know people like that!) If you need help with voice training, there are voice teachers, speech classes, and even a club called Toastmasters where people practice public speaking.
An important element of communicating vocally is whether you end your sentences on a higher pitch or note. Example: Hey, do you think your parents would let you borrow their car so we could all go to the beach? This will end on a higher note, indicating a question. One word for this is inflection. This is an important way we give meaning to words.
Through tone we can show contempt, warmth, dominance, submission, confidence or insecurity, and all our emotions…or not. Try saying no out loud to convey each of the above. For emotion, try ‘no’ five ways, as though you were mad, sad, glad, scared, or confused.
So if you say nooo…trailing off to a higher note, you may sound unsure, timid, or perhaps regretful of your answer. But if you say no. the sound or inflection goes down and you sound more definite and sure of your answer. This can be vitally important when people are apt to try to persuade you, such as the product seller in the mall or the pushy friend. Be aware of how certain you sound. Seeming uncertain invites people to try to change your mind, and that can be exhausting.
Finding Some Good Words
There is a saying that “no is a complete sentence.” Say it with me now- NO. Again…NO. And again…NO.
Do you want a pickle flavored milkshake? No.
Do you want to give me all your money? No.
Do you want to skip the final exam and go to the beach? That sounds lovely, but NO.
Most of the time we want very much to not offend the person we are dealing with. Guilt or worry about the other person’s reaction can make it harder to be straightforward. Some useful phrases are No, thank you; or I’m sorry, I can’t this weekend, but I hope you’ll ask me again; or No, bowling’s not my thing but I’d love to (hang out, get a coffee, study together, go to a movie) sometime.
As a rule of thumb, if the offer is very unattractive (wanna break into that house and steal some stuff?) and you don’t want to be asked again, then fewer words are best, even just No.
But if the offer or the friendship is attractive and you just can’t right now, then you can say so:
- I would love to, but my aunt is in town and I can’t go tonight.
- Wow, that sounds like fun, but I gotta work. Ask me again sometime, ok?
- Oh man! I have to be home by 11 pm, or I would go.
- Wow, Busch Gardens sounds like so much fun, but I can’t afford it. Thank for asking me.
- I really like you, but I’m not ready to have sex with you or anybody else. I hope you’ll understand.
Put It All Together
Face, Body, Voice, Words…let’s try some specific scenarios.
Friends Inviting You to Vape, Smoke or Do Drugs
They might say: Hey if you come to Joey’s house right now, we got some weed.
If you are offended or want to shut that down, you might say: Aw, hell no!
You could make it even stronger by: Looking sharply at the speaker with your eyebrows up and saying the words a little loud, no humor, and with a lowered inflection at the end, denoting finality.
If you are not offended but want to make it clear that you don’t smoke, you could say (laughing a little with your eyebrows up) No, Thank You!, or Whoa, no way! If you can stay relatively relaxed in this, you likely avoid offending the inviter.
If you are interested but can’t today or choose not now, or want to be incognito about your non-smoker status, you say No, Thanks! Or Nope, Can’t (in a friendly way-smiling, relaxed). You don’t need to say more unless pressed, and if you are questioned, you can simply say, today’s not good for me.
Don’t get pressured into explaining yourself if you don’t want to. If someone is pushing for an explanation: (flat, low, head nodding, eye contact) I have my reasons. Or, I don’t want to discuss it. Or, why do you want to know?
If you need an out, there are adults who will be glad to play the bad guy for you, for things they’d rather you not do: I can’t. (dramatic, scared, big eyes, low tone) My mom has a nose like a hound dog. She smells everything. Or man, my parents/my job/my coach drug tests me, and I can’t afford to get caught. They would kill me.
If pressure continues, you can use the super-powerful technique of the broken record. Have you seen teachers, parents, friends do this? Best used when you’ve already stated your decision and the person is pressing you to change your mind. You shorten up the words and lower your inflection, and begin to repeat firmly after each ask: No. (They ask again) Just No. (They say why not?) Because No. (But Why?) Because I said so. (Aw, come on) No. (But) NO. (Maybe..) NO! Make sure you are sitting or standing tall, turned toward the person with eyebrows slightly up, no humor in your face, looking and sounding assertive. NO.
Friends Inviting Themselves to Spend the Night
They might say: Hey, how about we stay at your house tonight?
If you’d like to preserve the dignity and feelings of the other person, you might say in a friendly, relaxed tone: Oh that sounds like fun, but I am so tired and I just need to get to bed on time-Maybe we can do it another time.
If you want to deflect the attention try: No. (up inflection) How about we go to a movie this weekend and then hang out? (An example of a counter-proposal)
If the person is a chronic user or boundary violator, you might say: No. (lower inflection: firm and final voice)
Again you can blame the parents if you need to, but I hope you will accept that It is OK to Ask…and it’s OK to Say No.
It’s really not ok to try to talk people into things. Unfortunately, lots of people didn’t get that memo. People are going to try to talk you into things you don’t want all your life. Work towards giving yourself permission and skills to say no and defend that boundary with those who would persuade you to do things against your better judgment.
Friends Inviting You to Ditch Class
Them: Hey, let’s ditch Religious Studies class and go to Krispy Kream!
You: (lightly) Oh Wow, don’t tempt me. I have to go to class.
Or: (resolute) Nah, I’m working on an A in there.
What if they come back with: Oh Come On! You’re the only one with a car!
You might say: (humorously) Sorry about your trouble, but bring me one if you make it over there!
Or: I wish I could! What if we tried to go on Friday after classes?
Or: Aww! I would love to hang out with you guys, but I just cannot miss this one. Sorry.
They continue to try to persuade.
You: No, no, sisters, I’m going to class.
Friends Wanting You to Drive Them While They Are Intoxicated
Them: You’re sober, be our designated driver!
You: (slightly turned off) Um, No.
Or: Jeez Guys, I don’t know how to break it to you, but it’s not fun driving a bunch of drunks/stoners around while I’m sober.
Or: (concerned) Well, I agree you shouldn’t be driving but I do not want to drive you all the way to Plant City. How about we call you an Uber?
If they press: AW Man! Don’t do me like this!
You reply with: (sympathetic, concerned) I’m sorry, dude, I hate to see you like this, but I cannot help you out on this one. Is there somebody you can call?
You consider the options: And I hate to get in your face, but you can’t drive you, either. You’re drunk/messed up and likely to get arrested or worse, hurt yourself or somebody else.
Let’s take this one all the way to the mattresses:
They say: Screw you, man! You don’t want to drive me but you tellin’ me I can’t drive either? Screw you!
You: (Firm, strong) That’s exactly right. I care about you that much. So either you call an Uber or a sober friend. Because if you get in that car in that condition, I’m calling the cops myself. You can hate me tomorrow, but you are not gonna drive that car tonight.
And if it comes down to it, you call the Uber, call the parents, get the keys, disable the car, or call the cops. Sometimes you have to risk losing a friend to save a friend (or some other innocent life).
You can’t control people, you can only choose your own responses. Perhaps there is no way to stop them, in which case you call the cops yourself, and/or you pray, or you rat them out to their parents. And make a mental note of the fact that substances are clouding your friend’s good judgment. Be wary of them driving you in the future if there’s a possibility of them driving while under the influence of intoxicating substances.
Parent Adding Chores to an Already Overloaded Day
Parent: I expect you to do a house chore today.
You: Mom, I know I owe you a couple of chores but I am not going to be able to do it today. Can I catch up this weekend?
Parent: I don’t trust you to do it this weekend. I want something today.
You: I’m sorry, Mom (deep breath, slow down, avoiding the angry tone that invites an argument). I have tons of homework, and a paper to finish and a test tomorrow. Is there some way we can compromise? I just don’t see how I can add another thing to my schedule.
The trick here is that you are probably not in a good position to say no due to the power difference between you and your parent. They own the house and pay the bills and have the civil rights and buy the food and get to make the rules. So your best bet is to remain calm and try to negotiate a mutually satisfactory compromise. Then you must follow through with your promise or you’ve damaged your next opportunity to negotiate. Or you can say no now, either more graciously, or less, and accept the consequences. You are in charge of you. It is the same with jobs, except if the relationship goes permanently sour a job is usually easier to walk away from than a family.
Person Asks You On a Date
Them: Um, Can I take you out sometime?
Or: Wanna go to prom with me?
Or: Would you like to come with me Saturday to see the play at Harrison Arts?
You don’t want to date this person: Oh that’s sweet of you to ask but no, thank you. (Say this as kindly and directly as you can muster. It takes enormous courage to ask someone out. Try it sometime. No, really. Try It. It’s good experience.)
No, thank you really is enough, but if you feel you want to add excuses to try to let them down even easier, then you say: I’m not really dating right now, I’m working hard on my schoolwork.
Or: I’m kind of interested in somebody else.
Or: I’m dating a guy/girl from Miami (or wherever).
The challenge here is balancing your integrity against their feelings. There is no need to lie. It’s more important to be clear and kind. If you lie, you are doing so to try to manage their feelings, and this is not your job. Chances are good that they’ll catch you in a lie anyway, and then be hurt or angry that you lied.
So you say: (Warmly) I like you, you’re a great guy/girl, but I’m not Into you, That way. Sorry.
Or: I don’t think we have much in common.
Or: Your swastika is a bit of a turnoff, dude.
They will likely be feeling the sting of rejection even if you are skillful at being kind about it, so graciously let them control the next move. They may stay and make jokes and act like they don’t care, or they may make an excuse and move quickly away. If by chance they act badly, be the bigger person. Say: (a little more coolly) Thank you for the invitation. I’m sorry if I hurt you. (move away).
Another note- be kind in the way you tell your friends. It’s ok to tell someone that you were asked out. But realize that this kind of news spreads like wildfire in a school or workplace, and the rejected one is probably hurting and embarrassed, and you could make that a lot worse. Swearing your friends to secrecy is futile. Better to speak of the asker in an admiring and supportive way. Be a builder of people and community, not a tearer-down of people. Appreciate the compliment you were given and the impact of your rejection. Don’t say yes when you want to say no, but show some respect for them and for yourself by allowing them to maintain their dignity. That’s the kind thing to do.
Person Wants to Have Sex with You
You Are Into Them But Not Into It
Them: Come on baby, let’s go to my house- nobody’s home.
You: Um, I really like you, I mean I’m really into you, but I’m not ready to go any farther than this right now.
Them: It’ll be ok, baby, I just want to lie down with you someplace comfortable and hold you.
You: I know and that actually sounds nice, but it also sounds like we’ll end up hooking up and I’m just not ready for that.
Them: What? I thought we were good together!
You: We are! and I want us to keep seeing each other, but If or when we do it, I want to be ready, and I’m just not right now.
Them: Now? How about this weekend? Or What if we just_________? (fill in the blank with some other sexual activity that seems more safe or appealing than actual intercourse)
You: No, that’s not what I mean. I mean I’m not ready to do that with you yet, in general.
Them: Well that sucks. When are you going to be ready?
You: I don’t know for sure. I’d like to keep dating and see where it goes.
Or: I plan to go to the altar as a virgin.
Or: I always thought I’d wait until graduation/I was 18/college/I was engaged/ I was sure I was in love. I hope you’ll respect my choice.
Expect the person to be frustrated and to need a few minutes to calm down physically and emotionally. They may not speak. It’s ok. It’s even ok to get dumped over this. Please do not feel obliged to have sex of any sort unless you are totally ready heart/mind/body and soul. If your partner can’t respect that, then they are not emotionally ready to be in a sexual relationship.
It’s ok to say no to going to any next level with a boyfriend/girlfriend. And it’s ok to not want to do today what you have done before. Just say no. Or no thank you. Or stop. And if that doesn’t stop the action, then it’s ok to get loud, get tough, get mean, get help. Don’t let someone take something from you that you don’t wholeheartedly want to give. It’s ok to physically defend yourself if necessary.
Because no matter how clear, how kind, how good you are at saying no, some people are going to beg, bully, manipulate and even try to force you to do things you don’t want to. Defend your boundaries, and if you cannot, then report abuse, and get help. You have a right to be in charge of yourself and your life. This means you have both a right, and a responsibility to say no.