3 Strategies for Saying “No” More With More Confidence

I am a recovering people pleaser.

There. I’ve said it. And I feel better now.


If you know me and have had conversations with me, you probably know that one of the areas in which I have needed God’s growth is being a people pleaser. The desire to orient my life around making sure others are viewing me well is spiritually exhausting.

One of the fruits of people pleasing is that there is a difficulty in saying “no” to requests made of you. And let me say from the onset that I am not referring to how we serve each other out of love or give sacrificially so that others might benefit.

I am referring to committing to something when we do not need to.

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and before you know it, you realize that you just got roped into doing something that you really have no interest in or time to invest?

We’ve all been there. You are having this casual conversation, and all of a sudden it turns to “Would you be available to…?” or “I am sure you would not mind if….” Or you get an email, some person is in a pinch, and really needs your involvement, time, or effort.

There have been some occasions in the past where I have been asked to speak at something. The person is a friend and there is obviously this need that I am being asked to fill. I would be a perfect fit and they cannot find anyone else because the person who was supposed to speak backed out.

I would like to do it, but at that time it just is not feasible. But yet, BUT YET, somehow out of my mouth I give a “I probably can do that…” or a “Yeah sure!” while all the while feeling angst about it and giving a big sigh later that day.

Why do I say “yes” to things I shouldn’t?

There are some reasons this happens for me:

  1. I do not want to let the person down. Saying “no” might seem harsh.
  2. I like the feeling of being busy and pursued. Busyness does not always equate too productivity, though.
  3. I just have a hard time saying “no” to things. And that is usually because I am not stewarding my life in the most effective manner. I am reactive instead of proactive.
  4. I know I am a finite and have limited resources but do not live as if this is true.
  5. I have FOMO (fear of missing out).

So what do you do? Perhaps you are not busy in your life and have the margin to say “yes” to everything that comes your way. Then we need to get together so I can learn your secret!

Most of us, though, do not fall into that category. I would like to offer you an alternative plan that works for me. I came across this tool in a podcast How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty and then had it reinforced this past week.

The pre-work for you? Think through your boundaries. There are many seasons of life in a year. What season are you in? What margin do you have in your life right now to best serve others?

So here is a better strategy for saying “no” when you should say “no.”

Let me offer a scenario, though, so that you can track with this more easily. Let’s say that I have been asked to speak at a sports banquet, but at this season of life, I simply do not have time to commit to preparing for this or attending it. It is a good opportunity, but one that I just do not have the margin for right now.

1. A “yes” to them

It is important that, in learning to love others, that you affirm them and what they are asking. The vast majority of time, what you are asked to do is a good thing. And so affirm that. Tell the person what a great thing they are involved with or how you appreciate what they have done to this point. 

By doing this, you have just affirmed the relationship.

And one small point: whatever you say needs to be sincere and truthful.

John, thank you for asking me to speak. I have been to a few of your games and really like the team spirit and sportsmanship that I see. That does not happen coincidentally. It happens because you model it for your guys. And that really speaks highly of your sports program.

2. A “no” to them

Part of my problem in saying “no” is then launching into this monologue about all of the reasons I cannot do the request. Perhaps I think it makes me feel better and not feel so guilty for saying “no.” I am not sure. But if you are not careful, then this part of the conversation can almost start sounding defensive. 

Like I have to help the person understand my busy life. I don’t.

If I have contemplated this season of life and have come to the conclusion that right now I simply do not have the margin for this request, then drop the backpack. It should be a matter-of-fact “no” that affirms some boundaries.

Unfortunately, John, I am going to have to say “no” to this request due to some other commitments going on right now. I am sorry, but I have to decline.

“That’s it?” you might think? Yes, that is it. Otherwise, it gets into this winding trail of “maybe’s” and 15 reasons why you want to but can’t. If you have not done the hard work of setting boundaries, someone else will.

3. An option for them

Because I care for that person and am genuinely desiring to help, I should offer them a solution or another option to think about. I want them to know that I am for them and want their request to be a success.

I do have another option for you, though. Remember Brian? He had an experience as a coach similar to what you told me about this season. Great guy and passionate about sports for the right reasons. Could I text you his number or would you like for me to initiate a conversation with him?

This is the yes-no-yes approach and it has worked well for me. In fact, I just used it this past week and the other person understood and we maintained the relationship.

As an end note, please do not think I am using this as a ploy to get out of doing things or serving others. I am not. And we should be serving one another in love. But I simply cannot do everything. And to be a good steward, I must be intentional about what I am doing.

I have used this method and I come away confident in my response rather than feeling guilty, hoping I do not cross paths with this person again. Who wants that?

Learn how to say “no” using these three strategies. It will make saying “yes” to other things more satisfying.

What has been your experience? Do you have trouble saying “no” to things? What tools have you found helpful? Leave a comment!


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