• Maribel Ortega

How To Say NO With Elegance And Clarity

The tools that get you to define your limits effectively

Being able to say no without feeling guilty or nervous is one of the most important skills I’ve had to learn in life. I used to get sweaty hands, my heart started racing, that negative monologue what-the-other-person-might-think-of-me-if-I-dare-say-no replayed non-stop in my head.

The way I was raised in the Dominican Republic, giving a straight no as an answer is considered highly impolite, so I had zero practice while growing up. I had to take a huge leap out of my comfort zone to see the benefits.

What I eventually learned is that by trying to keep external harmony and my reputation of being nice, helpful, dedicated (that little sweet lamb I used to be) I was paying an awful high price. I was putting at stake my internal harmony. Nice got me nowhere.

When I say no to something, I am saying yes to myself. I am marking my limits. I’m saying yes to my purpose, my personal goals and my values. I am practicing self-respect and this in turn increases my self-esteem.

In order to say no, you’ve got to learn to deal with disharmony.

This means you need two things:

  1. practice/repetition

  2. effective tools

You have to start practicing being out of your comfort zone and connecting that with growth, empowerment, improvement.

When we have done something several times, at some point it becomes second nature, it’s not strange anymore. You know the feeling, you can predict the outcome, it gets easier.

So start getting uncomfortable!

Here are the tools to do it right.

FIRST: this is foundational work for having a healthy self-esteem

You need to say yes to your purpose in life, your relationship, your family, to slow down and just take it easy, to enjoy your life, to be free, to have time for the important things, to be happy, to be in balance, in other words, to your quality of life. To what quality of life means to YOU.


Let’s see what options we’ve got.

1. The Time-bound Yes: this means you say yes, but you decide when.

Example: you volunteer for an organization and you’d like to stop, everybody says you should continue, because you're so good at it.

You say: “I'll do it till the end of the year, then I'll stop.”

2. The Partial Yes: this means you say yes, but you decide how much.

Example: a client calls you back and wants a price reduction in an offer that you've just sent.

You say: “We can reduce the price in service A, but not in B.”

3. The Clear NO: with this strategy you

  • remain true to yourself

  • communicate assertively your decision

  • take responsibility for your choices

The 4-step Strategy to saying NO

This is how you can say no charming and elegant.

Example: The purchasing manager in your company is leaving and you are being offered this leading position. Your personal goal though is to pursue a managing position in marketing.

You say: “The purchasing manager is leaving and the position is open now. I am honored to be offered this opportunity and that you value my skills. My personal goal though is to reach a managerial position in the marketing department because that is where my passion lies. I have decided to not accept your offer.”

Expect disharmony, the moment you communicate your decision. Your job now is to weather through it.

Breath. Count to ten. Get ready for emotional blackmail...

  • Flattering “No one can do this as good as you!”

  • Guilt trip “We thought we could count on you.”

  • Pity “What should we tell …?”

At this point, it's not about justifying yourself. It's about your decision. So use the broken record technique — to every argument used, respond with the same statement, that is, your decision.

Say it. Smile. Repeat.

  • “I know you’re disappointed, but this is my decision.”

  • “I highly value your offer/trust, but this is what I've decided.”

  • “I understand that you’re not happy about this, but in this case I've got to protect myself, or pay attention to my health, or think of my family, or think of my business”, depending on what applies to you.

If nothing else works, then you can pull the emergency card and say:

  • “It’s ok, you don't have to understand.”

Saying no can be learned.

It’s just about daring to create respect for yourself and educate the people around you about your limits. This is your responsibility to yourself. Now you have the tools and the strategy. So get out there and start saying no! It can be a wonderful feeling.