How to practice saying no without all that nasty guilt


strong and resilient black woman

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I’ve got a confession to make: I’m a recovering people-pleaser. Have I said things like, “Psssh! I don’t care what anyone else thinks of me”? Definitely. But my brain’s all “No, I do. I do care what you think of me. Pleeaaassseee like meeeeeee.” And oftentimes, my brain would win out and I’d find myself as a sudden doormat — both in my personal life and business.

But there is a two-letter word that I implemented in my life that completely empowered me as a woman and as a business owner.

That word? No.

That beautiful, simple yet full sentence was what helped me establish healthy boundaries and protect my time and energy.

Looking back, suffice to say… I’ve had a seat on the struggle bus when it comes to saying no to people.

And I know it isn’t just me. Many people, particularly women, really struggle with saying no for fear of being seen as “difficult” or being called a “bitch” for it. Caitlyn Collins, who studies gender inequality at home and at work and a professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a USA Today article, “Women have been socialized into understanding that what is most important is that they be perceived as likable and agreeable.”

So, what happens is we make ourselves smaller to accommodate what others might think of us, losing ourselves in the process.

But here’s what I’ve learned after years and years of working on my boundaries (which are actually pretty great now if I say so myself)…

Like building resiliency, saying no is a skill.

And like any skill, when you first start practicing you’re probably going to be lousy at it. You’re going to feel uncomfortable, you’re going to experience doubt, and you might feel like you just don’t have what it takes.

But, you do. You really, really do.

At first, you’ll likely feel guilty for saying no. This is totally normal. It’s a sign that you are pushing past your comfort zone which is what we want. We want to move into a space of growth where we prioritize ourselves over what others may think of us.

And I said “may” there because chances are, those other people are too busy thinking of themselves and everything going on in their own lives to give you much thought.

Isn’t that freeing to know?

You just need to be committed to practicing saying no because you will find that the more you say no, the easier it gets.

Remember: saying no is imperative to self-care and maintaining boundaries.

When you’re super clear on your values and your offerings, it’s not only easier for you to recognize when a potential client might be pushing a project out of scope, it will give you the tools to communicate those boundaries. If your body is begging for rest, it’ll be easier to politely decline that friend who wants to hit a party at 11 PM. If someone you barely know wants to “pick your brain” over coffee, it will help become compensated for your precious time.

But, more importantly: saying no empowers you to take control of your life and your time.

And that feeling like you were someone’s doormat? Well, if they want a doormat they can go find one at Target because that’s not going to be you.


Here are a few ways you can say no. Feel free to steal these and tweak them for yourself.

    Scenario #1

    Someone approaches you to work for too low of pay, no pay, or “exposure”

    Response: I appreciate you thinking about me but my base rate for this type of project is [insert your rate here]. If your budget happens to change, I’d be happy to work with you!

    Scenario #2

    Someone DMs you about setting up a coffee date to pick your brain but doesn’t want to compensate you for your time

    Response: Unfortunately, I am going to have to decline as I have to prioritize paid consultation work but here’s a blog post I wrote that could be super helpful in getting you started on [insert topic]!

    Scenario #3

    A friend asks if you’d like to attend a concert on a night you had planned to stay home

    Response: I won’t be able to make it that night but I’m free on Sunday — how about a brunch date?

    Need a few more examples of saying no? I got you!

    • Currently, I’m not taking on anything else.
    • Unfortunately, that isn’t a service I offer.
    • I appreciate you thinking of me, but I won’t be able to squeeze you in.
    • I’m unable to take that on right now. Here are a few people I’d recommend reaching out to…
    • I won’t be able to get it done by ABC as requested, but I can do it by XYZ. Would you still be open to that?
    • No, thank you.
    • No.

      I do want to make a point to notice how none of these examples are apologizing for saying no. There is no need to apologize for having control of your time, energy, and attention.

      Pro-tip: How to more easily overcome the trouble of saying no? Blame it on the contract.



      By far the best way to say no is to point back to the provisions in your contract. Let it be the bad guy —after all, the client agreed to it, right? This applies to scope creep, working outside office hours, etc.

      Now, I’m not usually for the recommendation of someone being thrown under the bus or used as a fall guy. but this is exactly what contracts are for!

      Well. Not for being thrown under the bus — But! They are there to protect both you and your client.


      Throw the phrase, “per our contract”, around as if it were confetti.



      • Per our contract… that isn’t included in the package you selected but I’d be happy to add it for $XXX. Let me know if this works for you and if it does, I’ll get the invoice sent out and get started ASAP.
      • As outlined in our contract… I need to be given X number of days to complete requests. As the deadline is sooner, there will be a rush fee of $XXX.
      • I’m unable to meet that request because [insert provision here].

      Pretty genius if I say so myself…





      Love to read? Here’s one more resource to help you on the journey of saying no…

      The Power of Saying No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness by James Altucher

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