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"What's With The Word No?"

Thought Experiment: Do we take people who compulsively say yes to our requests for granted?


“No” contradicts the expression, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The word “no” seems burdensome for the person saying it and the person hearing it. The person saying “no” may feel guilty, and the other person may feel rejected.


I suppose most, if not all of us, know someone generous with their time and compulsively say "yes." So their “yes” is both automatic and predictable. We expect the mechanical and predictable “yes,” so we lean on them more often than we should. When they say "no," we interpret their “no” as uncooperative.


Of course, there are situations where saying "yes" is correct. However, consider the impact of saying "yes" to every request on your mental health when you are doing so to:

  • Avoid conflict

  • People pleasing

  • Compulsively without understanding what you are agreeing to do.

“No” in conversation with a friend is heard differently than a salesperson would listen to “No.” To a salesperson, was the “no” a maybe or a firm “no” so they may ask follow-up questions to determine the firmness of your “no."


Sometimes in conversation with friends, the “no” is not straightforward, and the person being told “no” does not realize the communicator meant to say “no.” For instance, when we intend to say “no” to a request but respond with words like “maybe or maybe later,” knowing full well we have no interest in the request. Then, get frustrated with the person for making the request a second time.


In other situations, we may not even respond to the request, so we do not have to say “no.” To be aware of the request and ignore it would be unassertive. Therefore, learning to communicate assertively is an excellent skill to develop. This approach to communication is straightforward and minimizes discrepancies in the meaning of what is said.


Further, there are polite ways to say “no” that do not include the word “no.” So if you are uncomfortable with the word “no” and looking for new ways to say it, here are some examples:

  • “Sorry, I have already committed to something else. I hope you understand.”

  • “Thank you, I am good; I appreciate your offer.”

  • “Thank you for asking, but I am afraid I can’t.”

  • “I am sorry, but I cannot assist you.”

  • “That sounds fun; I have a lot going on at home/school/work.”

  • “Thanks, but maybe another time.”

  • "Sorry, I'm booked with something else."

  • "Now is not a good time for me. I will let you know if my schedule opens up."

  • "Unfortunately, that is just not possible, it does not fit with my schedule."

There are also informal ways to say “no.” Here are some examples:

  • “No.”

  • “Nah.”

  • “Nope.”

  • “By no means.”

  • “Certainly not.”

  • “No way.”

  • “No can do.”

  • “I don’t think so.” “No way.”

  • “I think I’ll pass.”

  • “I’d rather not.”

  • "Thanks but no thanks.”

The word “no” is not the same as a rejection. It is a liberation for some people who are too timid about using the word because they are concerned about the other person’s feelings. Stay true to yourself and say “no,” when you find a request unreasonable or an imposition on your time.


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