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10 Reasons you might find it hard to say ‘no’

10 Reasons you might find it hard to say ‘no’

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Date created
August 25, 2023
Last updated:
April 16, 2024
5 min read
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This article was originally written and published by Speak First

It’s never nice to hear the word ‘no’. It represents everything from rejection, to failure to missing out. Sometimes it comes as a surprise and sometimes it’s expected, but it’s rarely the answer we’re hoping for.

Therefore, many people struggle to say ‘no’ when asked to do something, because they don’t want to be the reason that someone else feels that way. Unfortunately, when someone asks you for a favor, particularly in a work environment, often you do have to say ‘no’. Maybe you don’t have the time to help out, or maybe you simply don’t have the ability, but nevertheless saying ‘no’ can make many people feel uncomfortable. Are they going to think that you’re selfish, mean or uncooperative?

We’ve laid out ten reasons that people often find it hard to say ‘no’, and we’ve explained why you don’t need to worry in any of these circumstances. How can you say ‘no’ to that?

1. You want to demonstrate willingness and commitment

You may genuinely want to help out, or you may just want to show that you’re willing to help others. If you’ve recently started a new job, you may feel encouraged to put in the extra effort to show an eagerness to get involved, but this has to be balanced carefully. Don’t let your willingness to get involved and help others affect your own work. No matter how much goodwill you’ve built up from being helpful, if you let your own commitments fall by the wayside then you’re going to get yourself into trouble.

2. You’re worried it could affect your prospects

When someone, particularly a manager, asks you for a favor it can be intimidating to say ‘no’. You don’t want to look unhelpful and you certainly don’t want it to look like you’re unable to cope with your current level of work. Maybe you’re afraid this will affect their opinion of you when it comes time to assign big projects or promotions? Well, relax – by being able to politely say ‘no’, you’re demonstrating assertiveness and confidence, which are also positive characteristics they’ll appreciate.

3. You don’t even think about saying ‘no’

When asked for help, some people just say yes as a natural instinct. Maybe you’re from a culture where saying ‘no’ to someone is seen as rude (or you simply just like being generous), but in the business world, as long as you’re fair and polite, saying ‘no’ isn’t a bad thing. People understand that other people have their own commitments and that you can’t always be immediately free for them.

4. You want to be seen as a team player

There’s a big difference between having to say ‘no’ to someone’s request and being selfish. It’s true that people like team-players, but they also like people who get things done. Getting bogged down in other people’s issues, while not achieving your own goals, will be much worse than not helping.

5. You think others may not like you if you say ‘no’

It can be intimidating saying ‘no’ to someone, and even more to say ‘no’ to people who we want to like us. Whether it’s a boss you’re trying to impress or a friend you want to stay close with, it’s human nature to worry that they’ll like you less because you said ‘no’ to them. But don’t worry, if you’re clear with your reasons then they should respect your decision. And consider your own experience, if someone’s unable to help you with a favor, do you automatically think less of them? So, why would you expect the reverse to be true?

6. You genuinely want to help

Sometimes, you may find it hard to say ‘no’ to someone because you genuinely want to help out, but can’t. Maybe you’re already overworked and don’t have the time, maybe you don’t have the skills or the experience to help, but it can be uncomfortable not being able to help when you really want to. The trick here is to help as much as you can – perhaps let them talk ideas through with you, even if you don’t really know enough to help enact their ideas.

7. You don’t want to jeopardize your relationship

Sometimes, someone will ask you for something and, because you have to say ‘no’ to their request, you may fear that it will put your relationship at risk. Although this is understandable, it’s very rarely the case. Even if your rejection upsets the other person, if there was a strong enough relationship before they asked you, then that person should understand – or at least, respect – your reasons when you have to say ‘no’ to them.

8. You believe it’s not nice to say ‘no’

We all have our own values and unconscious beliefs on what’s right and wrong, and what’s important and not important, and we try to live according to these values. For many people, they have the belief that you should try to be nice to other people, and it’s not nice to say ‘no’ when they ask for your help. However, this is a flawed and distorted view of what being nice and helpful means. There’s a difference between kindness and being a pushover, and sometimes you need to say ‘no’ to things, but that doesn’t mean you stop being a nice and considerate person.

9. You feel guilty afterwards

When you say ‘no’ to someone, do you reflect on your actions afterwards and sometimes feel uncomfortable about the decision you made? This is actually surprisingly common, and it’s completely unnecessary. When you have other commitments, you’re allowed to put your own needs first and to prioritize what’s most important. If you weighed up the options and decided that you had to say ‘no’, then you’ve got nothing to feel guilty about.

10. You don’t want to hurt their feelings

There’s a big difference between being assertive and being aggressive; and there’s a big difference between saying ‘no’ and being rude or unhelpful. When someone asks you for something, they should know that there’s a possibility you’ll have to say ‘no’, so their feelings shouldn’t be hurt if this is your answer. Also, as long as you can explain it in a way that shows you considered their feelings, but you’ve had to say ‘no’ due to other important and understandable reasons, then they should have no reason to be offended.

At Lepaya, we help organizations retain top talent by creating a culture of continuous learning. We build stronger teams and inspire future leaders by offering innovative learning experiences through our Power Skills training.


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Lepaya is a provider of Power Skills training that combines online and offline learning. Founded by René Janssen and Peter Kuperus in 2018 with the perspective that the right training, at the right time, focused on the right skill, makes organizations more productive. Lepaya has trained thousands of employees.

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