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How to Say No: 6 Tips

I don’t know about y’all, but I struggle to say no. I say yes to way too much. I like to help people and get involved. Sometimes I irrationally believe that everything will collapse without my involvement. I say yes when I should say no because I want to be the hero and save the day. But I’m not the hero of every story. It’s not my job to take care of everyone and everything all of the time. It’s not my job to be a people pleaser and bury myself trying to make everyone else happy. And it’s not your job either.

But saying no is hard. Where do we even begin?

If you ever listen to me on The Dr. John Delony Show, you’ll hear me say this over and over: When it comes to learning how to say no, we have to choose the guilt of disappointing someone over resenting them because we said yes.

When we say yes—but for a variety of reasons we need to say no—we end up exhausted, anxious and eventually burnt-out. But here’s the deal: You don’t just have the right to say no. You have the responsibility to.

You can’t be a truly healthy and high-performing business owner, leader, friend, spouse or parent and please everyone all of the time. You can’t show up for those you care about and for those who truly need you if you’re depleted, exhausted and chronically shoving your needs underground. Deeply internalize this important truth: An honest no is always better than a dishonest yes. I have six tips to share about how to say no that have helped me pause, make a decision, and honor my needs while respecting the other person.

Why It’s Hard to Say No

The truth is, telling someone no is hard and uncomfortable and weird. Here are some reasons why it’s hard to say no:

We imagine the worst possible outcome.

Maybe Aunt Carol gets super offended when you don’t eat her food, even though you’re allergic to one of the ingredients. You might worry you’ll be kicked out of the family if you refuse to eat her Christmas cookies. That’s called catastrophizing—but your greatest fear probably won’t happen. Sure, she might have a sharp word or look down her nose, but are you really going to lose your seat at the family table? I didn’t think so.

We care more about other people’s feelings than our needs.

If you grew up as the peacekeeper of the family, or conflict was unsafe for you as a child, you learned to put a lid on your needs to make sure everyone else had what they wanted. As a child, this kept you safe. As an adult, squashing your needs is a surefire way to build deep resentment. The best you can give someone is to show up whole and well. And you can only do this if your needs are met. You are not responsible for other people’s feelings.

We want to say yes!

Saying no can be hard when you want to say yes—to the gummy candies, to the date with the guy whose divorce is pending, to blowing the Christmas gift budget . . . because in the short term, we actually want those things! But deep down, we know that saying no is the best choice in the long run.

We’re afraid of missing out.

It’s tempting to charge that plane ticket to the credit card so you can go on the annual guys trip. Or to spend a ton of money on a new outfit for a first date. It feels like missing the trip or wearing an old set of clothes will cause you to miss out on everything good! But saying no means saying yes to accomplishing a more important priority, like getting out of debt or not chaining yourself to some credit card company.

We don’t know how to say no.

Most of us weren’t taught how to say no. And even if we do know how, saying no can make us feel like a jerk. But you can practice declining invitations or requests while still treating the person with dignity and respect. With practice, you can learn to set boundaries that are considerate of other people’s feelings—and that protect your needs.

We’re not sure what’s most important.

Saying no can be hard when you don’t know what you value or what’s a priority. When your only values are centered around making sure everyone else is happy and well, it can be stressful trying to get to the bottom of what you truly believe is necessary and important.

We want people to like us.

Turning down one birthday party at the bar because you’re prioritizing your health probably won’t be the end of your friendship. Skipping a night out with the girls or passing on someone’s used car will be fine come Monday morning. In the moment, it might feel like saying no will cause irreparable harm to our relationships, but this is almost never the case. And in the rare case that it is, you’re probably better off without that relationship anyway.

Why It’s Important to Say No

As uncomfortable as it might be, saying no is important because it helps you prioritize what matters most to you. By saying no to situations like attending social events you’re not interested in, spending outside your budget, eating food that’s unhealthy, or traveling when your schedule is already full of multiple responsibilities, you’re able to set boundaries that protect your wellness, peace and resources. No is the most basic boundary you can set around what you value and what you won’t put up with. (And this should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Never ever feel bad for saying no to something that will harm you or make you feel unsafe in any way. Ever.)

How to Say No: 6 Tips

1. Know What’s Most Important to You

Saying no starts with knowing your values and needs, especially in your current phase of life. When you don’t take the time to determine your values and needs, you’ll end up spending time and attention on things that aren’t important. You’ll be pulled all over the place, and your body will sound the anxiety alarms. On the flip side, when you say yes to what matters, you’ll feel satisfied and at peace knowing you’ve spent your time intentionally.


Want to build a non-anxious life? Learn how in Dr. John Delony’s new book.

Start by asking this question: What’s most important to me in this season of life? Write down the top five things and use that list as a decision-making filter. Here are some examples:

  • Exercising for 30 minutes every day
  • Eating dinner with my family each night
  • Completing a degree or getting a new certification
  • Serving my community two weekends a month
  • Paying off debt or saving up for a down payment on a house
  • Getting at least 7–8 hours of sleep per night
  • Attending a church service or spiritual group each week
  • Hosting a brunch for friends once a month
  • Reconnecting with my spouse after a busy stretch at work

Let’s look at how this plays out in real life. Say you’re asked to lead a new committee at work, but one of your current values is spending more time at home with your kids. You already have your answer: No! You may feel guilty saying no, but you won’t end up resenting your workplace down the road.

New! Building a Non-Anxious Life

If you create a life of intentionally living out the six choices outlined in this book, you’ll be able to better respond to whatever life throws at you and build a more peaceful, joyful, non-anxious life.

2. Set Boundaries

Boundaries aren’t selfish. They’re a gift to you and those you care about. They protect you and what’s important to you. When you don’t have boundaries, you end up going places you don’t want to go. You spend money you don’t have to impress people whose opinions don’t matter. Boundaries keep you from overcommitting and getting way too busy, and they keep your relationships safe and mutually reinforcing.

For example, if you value rest, you could set a 9:30 p.m. bedtime for yourself on weeknights. Then, if a buddy invites you to a concert last minute on a Thursday night, you’ll make the super annoying and painful (but right) decision to say no. Or if you have a 9:30 p.m. bedtime, but you value hanging out with your friends, you’ll go to the concert knowing you’ll trade a night of wild fun for being tired the following day. It’s all about being intentional.    

We can try so hard to accommodate everyone else—all the while getting off track in our own lives. Boundaries help you see and know the difference between other people’s priorities and your own. 

3. Talk Through Your Decision With Someone You Trust 

Whether it’s a therapist or your spouse or a sibling or a good friend, have people in your life who you trust. You need to find someone you can rely on to listen well, ask good questions, and give it to you straight. A good friend can act as a mirror to reflect your thoughts and feelings back to you if you’re doubting your decision to say no.

But remember: It’s up to you to own your decision to say no. Get insight from others if you really need it, but don’t rely on them to do the uncomfortable work for you.

4. Choose Guilt Over Resentment 

Never say yes in order to avoid feeling a sense of guilt. Ever. Saying yes because you feel guilty will only lead you to resentment. And even if you try to put on a smile and act like you’re enjoying yourself, other people will pick up on how you’re feeling.

People pleasing, hunting down approval and feeling bad about saying no are tactics we use to guilt-trip ourselves into commitments that don’t align with our values. If you feel guilt creeping up when you’re making a decision, pay attention to that feeling. Don’t let it drive you to something you don’t want to do. 

5. Respond With Kindness, Firmness and Clarity 

We have this saying here at Ramsey: To be unclear is to be unkind. Sometimes we halfway commit to invitations or opportunities because we don’t want to disappoint the person who asked us. We give noncommittal, wishy-washy responses like “I’ll see if I can make it work” or “Let me get back to you” or “Maybe, it sounds cool.”

Sometimes you do need to check your calendar, and you do need to “think about it.” But if you know right then you can’t make it, or don’t want to, say so. Clearly, firmly, and with compassion and kindness. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If you’re inviting people to something, you’d want to know who’s coming, right? You don’t want someone working on a project who doesn’t really have the bandwidth to help and who’s only pitching in because they want you to like them, do you? Be kind to the person who’s inviting you by communicating clearly.

6. Use a Script to Say No

It might sound silly, but you can script out how to say no ahead of time. Practiced responses can make the conversation much smoother.

For example, some people find a script helpful when they get invited to any one of a dozen holiday parties in the time warp between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Because they have a go-to response, they don’t have to figure out what to say in the moment.

You might need a script too. Maybe you need to plan what you’ll say the next time your boss asks you to take on extra work. Maybe all your friends are getting married and having kids, and you don’t have the money to go to every wedding or baby shower. You’ll need to find a polite way to opt out.

Think about writing scripts for different categories of your life, like these:

  • Social invitations
  • Volunteer work
  • Work requests
  • Family favors
  • Last-minute dates
  • Everything else

Examples of How to Say No

Here are a few kind but firm examples of how to say no:

“No, thank you.”


“Thanks so much for the invitation, but that time doesn’t work for me.”

“I appreciate the offer! Unfortunately, I’m not available.”

“I would love to come to your event, but travel isn’t in the budget this month.”

“I wish I could help, but I have another obligation that day.”

“Thanks for thinking of me! I’m sorry I won’t be able to fit it in.”

“I’ve already planned my donations this year.”

Choose to Build a Non-Anxious Life

Remember: Every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. And if you're tired of feeling like you never have enough time, or you’re making decisions that are adding to your stress instead of taking away from it, then I hope you’ll read my book, Building a Non-Anxious Life. It will help you make the Six Daily Choices to better respond to whatever life throws at you, grow from hard challenges, and find peace during chaos. Check it out.

Next Steps:

  • Write a list of what’s most important to you—so you know what to say no to.
  • Write a “how to say no” script to use in uncomfortable situations.
  • Remember to say no to other people with kindness and clarity.
  • Take my free Anxiety Test to see which areas of life you may be struggling with.

Did you find this article helpful? Share it!

Dr. John Delony

About the author

Dr. John Delony

Dr. John Delony is a mental health expert with two PhDs from Texas Tech University—one in counselor education and supervision and the other in higher education administration. Before joining Ramsey Solutions in 2020, John spent two decades in crisis response, walking with people through severe trauma. Now at Ramsey Solutions, John writes, speaks and teaches on relationships, mental health, anxiety and wellness. He hosts The Dr. John Delony Show and also serves as co-host of The Ramsey Show, the second-largest talk show in the nation. In 2022, John’s book Own Your Past, Change Your Future instantly became a #1 national bestseller. You can also find John featured on DailyMailTV, Fox Business and The Minimalists Podcast. Learn More.

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