How To Say ‘No’ Without Ruining Your Career, Friendships Or Reputation

Are you the kind of person that tends to answer yes to absolutely everything? The Cusp’s nutrition expert Jacqueline Alwill, along with Dr Timothy Sharp (aka Dr Happy) give their advice on the ways you can start saying no without ruining your life. In fact, saying no might just do the opposite for it.

We live in a society where the word ‘no’ is inherently associated with negativity. We are taught from a young age that we should jump at every opportunity thrown our way, and so out we go, into the big wide world throwing out the word ‘yes’ with more frequency than Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. We fill our diaries with meetings, paid work, volunteer work, dinner parties, yoga classes, social obligations and exercise, just to name a few. Then we wonder why we crash and burn.

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I can do it! Nope. No I can’t.

The Cusp’s nutrition expert Jacqueline Alwill tells a story that is all too familiar. She recounts spending 2015 on a ‘yes bender’ where she lived life on high speed, saying yes to any opportunity that presented itself, and where there weren’t opportunities, creating them.

The problem with a ‘yes’ bender

Jacqueline believes that digital media played a huge role in her ‘yes’ bender, as it constantly exposes us to the activities of everyone else, playing a role in the unrealistic expectations that we then place on ourselves.

“We are constantly exposed to what everyone else is doing and we don’t want to miss out, so to feel like we aren’t missing out, we throw ‘yes’ left, right, centre, up, down, freaking everywhere!” says Jacqueline. “When I finally stopped, and looked at just how much I had been taking on and that, truly, my body wasn’t built for that kind of marathon, bender, distance – however you might like to call it – I was exhausted. It had been a fun challenge, but I was leaving very little time for me.”

“Taking care of ourselves by actioning a few no’s is the most beautiful thing we can do for our own health.”

How did Jacqueline handle the come down from her bender? “I set way more realistic deadlines of what can be achieved in a period of time, rather than thinking I have some super human force that will allow me to get it done faster than I actually can. I lock in specific times, dates, weekends, even just an hour where I won’t allow things to get in the way – this has been hugely advantageous. Taking care of ourselves by actioning a few no’s is the most beautiful thing we can do for our own health – emotionally, physically, mentally. We should all spend a bit more time just as a human being instead of a human doing.”

If you think that you might be throwing the ‘y’ word around a little too flippantly, the following steps can help you to exercise your right to say no in a way that isn’t going to crumble your reputation and relationships.

#1 No isn’t bad – it means a better yes

yes and no

Image: Inkwell Press

It is important to take some time out for self reflection in order to reassess what things should receive a ‘no’ and what opportunities warrant a ‘yes’. Happiness expert and clinical psychologist Dr Timothy Sharp stresses the importance of realising what your true values are, and basing your decisions on these.

“I’ve seen lots of clients over the years for whom saying yes can be problematic and in most cases it can be attributable to that common desire to be liked. We all want to be liked and accepted – and that’s appropriate. But if we put that before other important needs then there’s no doubt it can be unhelpful. It’s important to know what our values are; from this we can prioritise and determine what we really want in life, and what we don’t want.”

#2 Communicate

This applies not only with yourself, but also with the people around you. Friends, bosses and co-workers are much more likely to grasp why you may pass up an opportunity if they understand your reasoning, or even if there may be something else going on behind the scenes.

#3 Put in 100%

Make sure that when you do say yes to something you put in 100%. Saying no to another opportunity will give you the time and energy to really take full advantage of your current situation and employers will be much more impressed with one job done well instead of two second rate attempts at jobs.

“Saying ‘no’ when appropriate allows us to focus on what might be more important, pressing or relevant aspects of life. Saying ‘no’ to the wrong things allows us to say ‘yes’ to the right things. We can’t do everything so focusing on what’s most important is vitally important for happiness and success in life.” says Dr Sharp.

#4 Forget about FOMO


It’s about that quality time.

Accept the fact that you can’t do everything. When you do say no to something, stick to your guns and remember why you said no in the first place. Friends will appreciate you so much more if the time you spend with them is quality time where you aren’t worried about work/family/relationships, and your friendship will be all the better for it. It’s all about quality over quantity.

Dr Sharp suggests that the best way to say no to someone involves assertion without being aggressive or overly passive – this might seem like a tricky balance, but practice makes perfect. “Saying ‘no’ in the right way involves expressing our needs appropriately, and diplomatically, whilst also being cognisant of and empathic to the other person’s thoughts or expectations or position. Getting this balance right is not always easy but it’s very important to try.”

We often say ‘yes’ to too many things in the hope to make ourselves a better person, often trying to live life at 150%. You’re not you when you’re stressed out, maxing all of your energy stores on opportunities that may well not be productive or beneficial in the long term, or in line with what you believe.

Next time the word ‘yes’ comes out of your mouth as a matter of habit, take a second to reflect and work out how thinly spread you are, then consider scaling it back. The ability to be able to say the word ‘no’ can be incredibly liberating and empowering when done from an authentic place.

Tegan Reeves is a Wollongong based freelance writer who isn’t afraid of oversharing. She writes for Beat magazine, BRAG magazine and is always up for a Fleetwood Mac singalong.