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How to Say No to People and Create Boundaries

Be honest, are you a people-pleaser? Is it hard for you to say “no” to people, their requests and projects – even if it makes you feel like you’re putting other people’s interests first while sacrificing your priorities and personal projects? You need to create boundaries to keep your sanity. Luckily, saying “no” doesn’t have to be harsh or ruin relationships with people. Let me show you how you can do it!

Everything you say “yes” to has an opportunity cost – which is all of the things you’re saying “no” to by saying “yes” right now. For example, by saying “yes” to doing an important presentation that has to be done over the weekend, you might be saying “no” to a coffee date with a friend. Or to reading a book in a park.

Every decision in life has consequences, so we might as well control the narrative when it comes to how we spend our time. And that involves saying “no” to things that are outside of our priorities and interests. Which is how we can create boundaries.

I’m not advocating for saying “no” to everything that comes your way – don’t get me wrong. We’re talking about declining requests, projects and opportunities that don’t serve you, your priorities or your goals. I’m talking about creating boundaries that are healthy for you.

Understanding Your Boundaries

Boundaries are simply limits. Those limits can be emotional, psychological, energetic, or physical – and you should have them in place in order to stay sane and protect your wellbeing. Understanding and protecting your boundaries takes self-awareness and practice.

For example, I’m an introvert and over the years (it took me a pretty long time!) I’ve learned that I have to create time and space to be by myself in order to re-energize. No matter how much I love my friends and family, I have to protect my boundaries, which means saying no to hanging out at times.

By saying “no” you are protecting your “yes” – something that is a higher priority to you in this context. In the example above, my “yes” is to creating time and space for myself to re-energise. I’m creating my boundaries and protecting them by saying no.

Saying No

Understanding that “yes” is the most important step to saying “no” politely and respectfully. It helps you understand your boundaries and communicate them to the other person.

William Ury in his book, The Power of a Positive No, suggests the following structure for saying no:

1. Yes

Stating your underlining “yes”, what you are trying to protect by saying “no”.

2. No

Politely declining the request while asserting your power to decide. You don’t have to actually use the word “no”, but you should make it clear that the answer is negative.

3. Yes

Furthering the relationship. Suggest a solution, a workaround, a resource – or a different person who can help.

Let’s look at my example above and how I can structure my answer in that scenario:

1. Stating my Yes:

“I’m overwhelmed from too much socialising recently and need to recharge my batteries”

2. Saying No:

“So I can’t hang out this weekend.”

3. Saying Yes:

“Would you like to go to see a movie next weekend? [Insert movie name] has just come out and it has awesome reviews!”


I want to reiterate this part: it takes time and practice to create boundaries and understand them. A good rule of thumb when it comes to learning to understand them is to pause when a request comes your way. Pause and reflect whether this is something that you can accommodate or if you should protect your time and priorities.

Sometimes you will need to dig deeper to truly understand your underlying “yes” and that’s a wonderful practice in getting to know yourself better.

In fact, let’s practice right now! Comment below what request you want to say no to or wish you had said no to – and try to create your yes-no-yes response.

And if you’d like some help reconnecting with your purpose and priorities in life, I’ve created a free course helping you do that!

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