Welcome back to the Positively Living Podcast. I’m your host, Lisa, and we’re continuing this summer of solo episodes with another topic that comes up on repeat: Saying NO.

It’s a hot topic with lots of mixed advice, so I welcome you to grab a drink and take a quick break with me while we explore why saying NO is an issue, what it actually means, why you want to do it, and how to do it without feeling guilty or rude.

The Root of the Issue Around Saying No

Let’s begin with the root of the issue: our perception. I did a reel recently on Instagram with audio from Terry Kaye. He’s a video creator I follow–and I encourage you to do the same–because he makes really good points through humor. In the audio I used, he likened the word NO to cussing. And he’s right! People do treat it like that.

It begs the question, why do we take issue with the word “NO”? Why is it seen as negative? 

Saying NO is treated like a denial or rejection instead of a choice.

Saying NO is taken personally because people expect to hear yes, especially from you if you have been a people pleaser in the past. 

Saying NO is made to be a selfish act, when in reality it is important for all parties involved.

Saying NO is an important part of protecting boundaries, but it’s not just about saying NO. It’s figuring out when and how to say it.

There are many well-intentioned people out there sharing the mantra “No is a complete sentence.

While that is technically true, it’s also a limiting perspective. Grammatically it’s accurate, but emotionally, we are far more complex than that. So while this mantra starts the conversation and reminds you in a tough love kind of way that you do NOT need to justify saying no, it doesn’t take into consideration the heart of the matter…your heart in the matter. 

When is “No” Appropriate?

Today, I’m going to help you do that while ensuring you’ll be able to say NO confidently and appropriately in a way that feels good to you and is effective.


The first thing you need to do is understand what YES and NO mean in this context. Sounds weird, maybe, but because it’s obvious that yes is acceptance and no is rejection; however, we need to be careful with our perception, just as I described earlier. 

When a request is made, you are assessing if this task/project/opportunity is a fit, whether in your calendar or for your strengths or with your values. Saying NO, therefore, doesn’t always equate to not wanting to or being willing to, but rather the result of your current assessment. 

The most important thing to realize when you make a choice is that while the choice may be related to the specific request, you are actually saying BOTH YES and NO when you respond. That’s because for every YES, there are things you are concurrently saying NO to, and for every NO, you are saying YES to others.

Your power comes in figuring out which is which and making the best choice for you in the moment.


You do this by giving yourself space to process that each time you are asked to do something or are asking yourself what to do. The simplest way to practice this is to say these six words every time you are considering a request:


That’s it. You can use this one response for any request, and I highly encourage you to practice it. Those words give you the space you need to assess and plan a reply. You get the chance to pause, reflect, check your bandwidth, and to really consider what a yes or no would actually mean for you. Then you can confidently answer. 


When you’re ready to reply, I want you to do so in a way that feels good, provided it’s genuine and doesn’t mislead. You can do so in person or by email or text if easier (which is another reason saying “Let me get back to you” is so helpful). 

Whichever way you reply, ensure you are direct. If it’s a yes, be clear about what you’re saying yes to, and if it’s a no, the same goes with a couple of caveats.

When you say no, especially if you’re not used to it, you may find yourself wanting to justify. While you don’t have to justify what you do, and I don’t want you to do it out of guilt about saying no, I understand sometimes you want to say more to maintain goodwill or express sincere regrets. (And when you are choosing something for yourself, you may need reasons outlined to be more confident in your choice.) 

There are ways to provide context without guilt. So let’s talk about how to say no firmly and respectfully.

How to Say “No”

Before I give you the specific ways, I need you to remember WHY you are saying NO. Saying NO to others is a must for you to ensure you are showing up your best and prioritizing YOU and your needs. 

And saying NO to yourself is an important act of self-care. You’d think if you get to make the rules for yourself in internal boundaries that it wouldn’t involve saying NO, but no such luck! Just like parents say NO to kids out of love (looking out for their best interests), you need to give yourself limits too. 

Now it’s time to practice and the best way is to have responses ready to go that can work for you depending upon the situation. I have a very simple formula for you for firm but gracious replies:

Choose ONE EACH from Part 1 + Part 2 and combine them together. 

Start with a phrase that fits best from Part 1:

—Part 1—

I’m honored…

Thanks for thinking of me…

It sounds lovely…

It’s so kind of you to include me…

I truly believe in what you’re doing and want to support you

Then add in an appropriate conjunction like but/however/unfortunately along with your choice from Part 2.

—Part 2—

…but I cannot attend/join/help.

…but I am unavailable.

…but I am unable.

…but this isn’t the right fit for me.

Do you notice how in each of those, there weren’t extra details or justifications? That’s right – just a reminder that you don’t need them. But if you have a relationship with someone where you want to add modifiers like “at this time” or offer a specific timeframe (during the summer months, over the holidays, while I’m working on this project, etc.) feel free to do so. You can even add “Ask me again.” and specify a time if you would like to revisit the request, but only add that if you mean it.

The key here is to firmly say no without trapping yourself into an accidental yes at another time unless you want that.

Because I know a lot of givers, I want to add one more important point. If you really *would* like to help, so technically, you need to say no, but if circumstances were different, you would totally happily say yes, don’t be afraid to negotiate. 

“I’d love to help but am only available next week, would that work?” 

“I could do this portion of the project, and it would take me until the end of the month, is that ok?” 

You can even negotiate with yourself, which I mention in the Tackle Your ToDo List episode. You can opt to delay a project if it matters to you, but it’s a “not now”.  

So, what do you think? Do you feel better about saying NO? You can say no if you want! Are you more prepared at least? If you’d like some support in creating and protecting stronger boundaries, head to https://positivelyproductive.com/resources/ 

This is the page you want to go to for all kinds of things we mention on the podcast. It has a list of favorite resources and books we frequently mention on the podcast, plus you can sign up for the free resources library that has worksheets + checklists I use with my clients. Included in the library, you’ll find the list of phrases I mentioned in today’s episode so you can refer to them as you practice.

I encourage you to keep choosing what’s right for you and standing up for those choices.

Mentioned in the episode: Tackle Your ToDo List in Four Simple Steps | Positively Productive Systems LLC

Additional Resources

How to say no without sounding rude – Google Search

The Boundary You Didn’t Know You Were Missing | by Melody Wilding, LMSW | Forge (medium.com)

6 Effective Tips to Politely Say No (that actually work!) | Science of People

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