5 Feb 2014

Can You… Do You … Say No?

How To Say No - Vicki Archer


Ok… so I am having fun… with these tongue in cheek ways to say no

I did enjoy thinking about the ways we duck and weave around that dynamic, emotionally laden little word…

Euphemisms I dreamed up for my children when I needed to say no… the, “we’ll see” being my favourite… followed by the, ” let me think about it”. My three knew early on that that those statements equalled a no…  and that there was little hope to change my mind. Even though I said no in my way… I could rarely bring myself to flat out deny them.

– – –

This year I promised myself that I would learn to say no without guilt… that I would say no confidently and quietly… that I would stop trying to achieve the impossible and that when a resounding no was needed I would deliver it with aplomb and go with the consequences.

Easier said than done.

Especially if you are a perfectionist and people pleaser. I don’t like saying no… I would rather push myself to the limit than disappoint or not deliver.

I am always squeezing that little bit extra into an overly packed day… sometimes it works but at other times it means that everything else gets watered down and nothing is done as well or as successfully as I had hoped.

Saying no so often makes me feel bad… and that’s where it gets all wrong. Intellectually I know there is nothing misplaced with a refusal when it’s for the right reasons… and a no is just as valid as a yes. 

When you think about it sensibly everyone must say no from time to time… it’s not personal, it’s practical. There are only so many hours in the day, lives are extremely busy and obligations forever magnifying… it’s not possible to do it all… it’s only natural to cull… and that means  no.

– – –

Why does it worry us so? How can two letters create so much angst?

I believe women struggle harder with this than men… it’s in our DNA to please… as daughters, as mothers, as partners, as friends… we unwittingly seek approval from our loved ones… And why not? It feels good… actually it feels great. Approval is a mighty drug.

Women don’t like to disappoint… we are carers and nurturers… we make things right in the world… we are givers, not takers… and saying no equates with displeasing.

My husband says no so beautifully, so effortlessly and with such grace… Business practice perhaps? “Leave it with me, I’ll give it a bit more thought…” generally ends up in a no… and without offending… He is a master, I still fall for it.

As women, learning to say no is one of the greatest challenges we face.

Without the ability to say no occasionally… and I’m not suggesting we become grumpy and mean spirited by any means… we run the risk of depleting our energy, our creativity and losing the very instincts and drive that make us who we are… that make us such a special breed.

We have to shake that feeling of I’ve-done-something-wrong when we refuse and be clear and concise with our reasons. It’s not selfish to think of ourselves sometimes, it’s essential.

– – –

We should not be intimidated when saying no. We should embrace the opportunity to choose, to use both our emotional and physical reserves gainfully in a way that is not only beneficial to others but also to ourselves. This is not self-centred, this is survival.

I admire those who so eloquently use the negative. I don’t consider them mean or selfish… I respect their decisions and the reasons for making them and most importantly, I trust their judgement.

For now… I’m still working on it… And you? xv


Many fabulous bloggers are talking challenges today… Click here to read their thoughts….

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Gillian Dry Paddocks

Beautifully written Vicki. So much of what you have written resonated with me. Why do we admire others who can say no, but we find it difficult ourselves? So yes, saying no is a work in progress for me.


I don’t know why… I guess we want to please… but sometimes it does take it’s toll… Like all things we must find the balance… :)


In many Asian countries people often don’t like to say No because it might cause loss of face. Either for themselves or the person they’re speaking to. In Sri Lanka when we lived there for a couple of years, a negative response might be something along the lines of “I’m not really sure”. The listener knew this meant no, but it was considered a polite way to refuse. Very like your husband’s formula, which is even better.
Having worked mostly with men, a negative response I had to use in tricky situations when younger was “you should live so long”. Usually raised a laugh but was understood to be a definite no. Still use it occasionally in different circumstances. Can always change the pronoun to first person singular too, depending. Cheers, Pamela

Anita Rivera

HA! You know, I don’t have a problem saying “NON!” It’s quite the reverse in our home…my dear husband uses many of these lovely ways to skirt around the word, while I just barrel in with my high heels and say, “NON, MERCI!” teeheee

I must go visit your blog links, Vicki – you always have something wonderful to share. Be well, and JUST SAY NO! :)


Great post Vicki, one of the hardest things to do is say no. I was invited recently to a drinks party, my instinct said, don’t go… but the the host was insistent that we come and they almost changed the date just to include us… well, I went, I hated every minute. I was more annoyed with myself for not listening to my heart. I made a New Year’s resolution to not do anything this year that doesn’t feel right… that includes saying no to people I love and ‘Like” and, tonight I did it… I told a close friend that I couldn’t help her with something that she wanted me to do. I know she is upset now and most probably confused with my response, and at the end of the call, she said, let’s meet to discuss it, which means, she is not listening. I may end up with few friends if this continues, but at least I will be happy with myself. xxxxx Sending love, Coty

Heather in Arles

What a fantastic post and right in the direction you seem to be taking French Essence–up, up and beyond! You know, I have less of a time saying no in French. Isn’t that odd? But somehow there are so many vague phrases like “peut-être” and “on va voir”…hehehe. I am sneaky. Not as charming as your Husband though. My goodness.

And I don’t think that there is anything wrong with sticking to your guns OR in being a people-pleaser, as long as you respect yourself, your boundaries. Does that make sense?

MJH Design Arts

Hi Vicki, This one liittle word causes so much anxiety. I’m a work in progress regarding its use, but I’m getting better at the pronunciation. I have noticed that when I say no, I meet with a few startled stares as if to say “How Dare You Deny Me”–but I’m not giving up. Being a shop owner there are so many times when I want to tell women (and men, too): “Please have the courage and integrity to say NO…….you will not hurt my feelings, and I will know exactly where we stand in this transaction. Perhaps, “let me ask my husband” is worse, as it tells me that this women has not been around for the past 45 or 50 years. As women and as humanity we have the right, honor and priviledge of saying “NO” without offending.
Thank you for opening the conversation.


I agree, Mary… we need to be strong in our decision making and confident at the same time… :)

Mona Thompson

I think we have all landed on the same runway today…and that in itself is very telling. I’m encouraged by your words as I struggle myself with one particular challenge in my life right now where I really need to say no…but I’m having a very hard time doing so. Have a great day. Mona


It’s not an easy thing… it should be… but it never is… or at least that’s how I feel… :)


What a great article Vicki! Often I feel guilty to say “no” but I know I have to say it more often….work in progress for me too.


I have an image on the sidebar of my blog that says ‘I can NOT do it ALL’. It is there to remind me that I need to say NO more often {it really is a problem for me}.

I like your husband’s response very much. The statement has enough strength to deliver the message without offending.


Truly a difficult thing to do. However, I think, for me, with age this is getting easier. Time well spent is a luxury. Therefore, to say “no” has brought me great peace.


That is so true… “time well spent”… makes me reflect on all the time that has been misspent!


Briliantly written, dear Vicki…and indeed this topic resonates with many of us.
“Approval is a mighty drug”….hmmm….I’ve never thought of it in quite that way…thank you! I may have just been enlightened! :)
I guess it all comes down to “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”. I have gotten better at saying no, but the trick for me is in the balance of sounding firm, but kind, or a bit witchy if I am really not liking what is being asked of me. ;)

I hope your February is full of love and joy, chere Vicki!
– Irina


I think we do underestimate how good approval makes us feel…w e just need to translate that into self approval… :)

Diane Toole

Hi Vicki. One of the funniest cartoons I ever saw on the subject showed a man on the phone looking at his agenda saying, “How about never. Does never work for you?” My husband and I have repeated this to each other so many times over the years and still get a chuckle!


The past few years I have worked on getting that no Is a complete sentence. No. Qualifiers not needed.


That’s the thing isn’t it? The lack of ‘no’ deprives us of what we truly would like to do… Great way to look at it., Patricia.. No = Yes :)

lisa thomson

I’ve gotten better at saying ‘no’ in this past decade (my 40’s). It’s so important and I’m happy to see you tackle this one, Vicki. In fact your post ties in nicely with mine which is all about how we spend our time and the fact that it’s a nonrenewable resource. In my post I warn of people pleasing as often it ends up sucking away your time without a guarantee for the pleasing part. If people get mad when you say ‘no’ to them, they aren’t worth your time.

Peggy Braswell

grand post Vicki, I know as a woman I struggle with saying no + I find it much easier with people I do not know + loved your husband’s come back + will use it. xxpeggybraswelldesign.com


I really enjoyed this, especially the list of how to say no. My favorite is, “Sorry to let you down, but I can’t.” When I have a hard time saying no, it’s because I don’t want the other person to feel disappointed in me. Most people don’t have that much invested in my answer and will simply move on to ask someone else, but it covers the possibility that my answer really mattered to them or the project. When my daughter was little, I had no compunction about saying no directly, especially once I learned how tenacious she was if there was any wiggle room in my answer!


It’s always the people who are so demanding that make us feel the guiltiest… Some people don’t accept “no” for an answer and that’s when it gets tricky…


Amen to that “NO” ! I have been trying to train my husband for years to just say “NO”, No I cannot get it done in that time frame…No I cannot get it done with this budget….No I cannot make that meeting in an hour when I am 3 hours away…..I don’t think he will ever change…No, is the hardest word….

Marsha @ Splenderosa

So beautifully, eloquently written. And, so so true for over-achievers like us. Thank you, Vicki Archer, for being such an important member of our BIO. We could not do it without your contributions. Onward & upward, darling friend !!


Ahhh Vicki, I love that you’ve taken this topic on! Yay big hug.
Ok so I am now – newly minted into the habit of saying no. I have learned it from a new colleague (I’m also back to work part time after kids in college) and work with a dynamo…female! I watch her say no like a pro. Sometimes she’ll say “No…I really can’t, I’m spread to thin, ask me next year.” Or, she’ll start with “Oh I’m touched you thought of me…” or “That sounds wonderful but I am maxed out,” (or overbooked, or committed that night, or…) you get the picture. She has NO problem saying no very very nicely and usually with a compliment and a wish of good luck to the person. It’s empowering to say NO nicely. For those of us uninitiated into the habit, you can start with “What a great idea, I’d love to but…”

I have had the problem of not wanting to let anybody down….now I feel, tant pis! time to be strong, nice, polite, gentle, but strong!

Garden, Home and Party

So true. It’s always difficult for me to say no, even when I’m really busy. I think I feel like I’m letting someone down if I say no, in fact I’m letting myself down if I DON’T say no.
I’ll have to work on perfecting the art without upsetting the person who is asking the favor. :)

Kathy Andersen

It took me until I reached serious illness before I finally learnt to say no!? Always wanting to please??!! Once through this hurdle it does become effortless for me to actually say no in a polite manner. I have also realised that I don’t have to give a reason!? We spend so much time trying to create a valid excuse – not necessary!? It gives a sense of freedom to be able to say no!? It is not being mean as other times I can say yes, when I am able to.
With kids….probably still say ‘We will see’?! It takes a while to train oneself on this ‘No’ business, but it is necessary!?


Why do we always feel so compelled to justify ourselves? I think that’s where our problem lies when saying ‘no’…
It’s so true that saying ‘no’ liberates time for more positive responses…


Hello Vicki, like you I have difficulty saying no! A few years ago I found this article in a magazine cut it out and carry it in my wallet, when I need the confidence to say no I read it.

“Being able to say no, and mean it, is an important life skill. Without it, other people’s needs and whims can take over your life. Stay in charge of your time and avoid stress by saying no with confidence. However, it can be stressful to say no because it means dealing with conflicting desires, commitments and priorities. Saying no is a good indicator of your ability to take care of yourself and your needs. There is evidence to support the idea that the people who live longest and happiest don’t care much about what other people think about them and don’t let others control them more than necessary.”

Hope this helps.

Tricia Heliker

The difficulty for me is that I feel I have to provide an excuse for why I am saying, no. Those excuses are often complete fabrications and bring with it their own complications and guilt. I have to say, that, as I get older I can just say, “It is not something I care to do.” and that’s the truth.

D. A. Wolf

This is such a tough lesson for most of the women I know. (We have to learn it over and over.) We hang on to the belief that we can – and should – somehow manage it “all.” And no one can, generally.

Men (in my experience) are better at this. Your note that your husband is better at it (and perhaps due to business) made me think about my personal life versus professional life (20 years in multinationals, 10 years as an independent). I say “no” in my professional life more easily. I still struggle with it on the personal side.

So let’s raise a toast to the “no, non, and nyet” – so we can enjoy a little more of the times we say yes.

Virginia Blue

Saying “no” without hurting people’s feelings….aha, that’s an art and a half…I think your husband has perfected it…the rest of us…not so much….


It truly is an art…. perhaps an old fashioned one… I admire people very much who execute the negative with elegance…


Thank you soooooooooo much for putting this post up. I’m in the process of having said a huge NO to a landlord with unreasonable demands upon the vacating of a property. The guilt, the wanting to please, the self doubt have all kicked in however my sixth sense tells me I’m right and for once I’m sticking to it and as you say will ‘go with the consequences’ knowing full well at least I was true to my values…..damn tough though!

I can only imagine that a ‘non’ spoken in a French accent is less grating than a ‘nah’ spoken with an aussie drawl!



So eloquently put!!
I have just printed out your blog today and put it on my husband’s breakfast plate. I have tried so many times to explain to him why I can’t just say NO. Like your husband, mine is a master at the NO, does it effortlessly, even with charm sometimes and never leaves the receiver of the NO feel let down. I think he will understand me better after reading your NO blog.
Thank you!

rosalie carmichael

No! such a small word with great power and a wonderfull sense of freedom. It should be used more often. It does not confuse or imply, it is very clear. I use it without explanation. My favourite word in the English dictionary.


This was absolutely the hardest thing for me to learn, but saying yes to everyone was making me miserable! My son told me, just say “I’ll think about it and I’ll get back to you.” Then don’t get back to them! But if the get back to you, you’ve had a chance to think up how to say no!


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