NO is a Complete Sentence: Learning to Deal with Conflict

Do you feel guilty when you tell someone “No”?  Does your guilt then lead you to go on to explain why it is you can’t do whatever it is that person is asking you to do?  Do you say your sorry even when your not? Do you do things that your head is telling you not to do because you feel bad saying no?
These are habits many of us have, we don’t like conflict so we either avoid it, try and softly explain why we can’t do something, or even worse we let someone talk us into doing something that we don’t really want to do.  All of these things lead to over-packed schedules, feelings of resentment and make us just plain tired.  Learning to use “no” as a complete sentence can lead to better relationships and leave us feeling much less stressed.


If You Aren’t Sorry, Stop Apologizing!

Gabby the gossiper, your most irritating coworker comes over and says “Hey, a bunch of us are going out after work, would you like to go?”  Now, in your mind you are thinking, there is no way on God’s green earth that I want to spend anymore time with you than I have to, but what comes out of your mouth is “Oh I am so sorry, I really can’t tonight”.

By saying you are sorry you have just told Gabby that you really would like to spend time with her, and that she should ask you again another time. You are just putting off the inevitable.

What if the conversation went more like this:

Gabby asks “Hey, a bunch of us are going out after work, would you like to go?”  and you reply “No thank you”.

No conflict, no explaining, no feeling bad that you know she will ask again, no feeling bad that you were mean to her.  “No thank you” is a polite professional response that usually stops people from any further inquiries.

Stop Explaining!

If we look at our scenario and take out the “I am so sorry” and leave the “can’t tonight” we still open ourselves up to confrontation. Gabby may ask “why not?” and you either have to make your evening plans of Chinese take out and The Voice sound really exciting, or lie.

You know that if you are honest, Gabby will try to talk you into it, but if you lie you will have to remember to shut up about Blake’s comment to Adam and Adam’s awesome come back at the water cooler tomorrow.

Using “No thanks” does not give the Gabbys of the world anything to grab onto and spin in their favor.  This takes so much conflict out of your life, you do not need to give an explanation. You do not need to give Gabby a chance to make you feel guilty “Come on, you never go with us (whine) and it’s Norma’s 2 week anniversary”.

You do not need to give her the power to schedule your life or make you feel guilty. Just say No.

Stay Strong!

But Michele, what if they still ask why?  I know that some people don’t like taking “no” for an answer, most of them are children and people like Gabby.  With our children we often break out the well used line “Because I said no”, but if you have a working relationship with Gabby,  you might want to go with something a bit more professional (at least at first).

So again, the goal is to be firm and polite. So here is how I see the conversation going.

Gabby: “We are all going out for drinks tonight, do you want to come?”

You: No thanks

Gabby (annoyed): Why not

You: Excuse me (polite tone, almost like you didn’t hear)

Gabby: Why not?

You: Why not what? (confused)

You are showing Gabby that to you, the conversation is over, now she will either have to reiterate the whole conversation or give up. Most will give up, and if they don’t, feel free to smile and use the same line you use on your kids “because I said no”.

no thanks

Friends, coworkers, employers, employees, family, clients, all of these people will at some point ask you to do something that you don’t want to do, or that conflicts with something you already have scheduled.  There is nothing wrong with using the above scenario for any of them.

There are going to be times that you truly are sorry that you can’t do something, or when an explanation is reasonable.  In either case keep it as brief as possible.  Below are a few more scenarios that you can use as a template for in those cases.

When You Are Sorry

Your Mom calls and asks “Can you pick up the puppy from the groomers tomorrow? I am supposed to have dinner with Aunt Lucy”.

Okay, most days you wouldn’t mind helping your Mom out, but tomorrow you are supposed to go on a date with your husband and you guys have had zero time together lately.

Your mind starts to race; ‘ok if I go to pick up the dog after work, then go all the way back to Mom’s, that would add an hour or so to my commute, I would get home at 7, dang, that’s whenPuppy with bow the dinner reservations are’.

So you have 2 options, reschedule dinner with your husband (if you do that you might want to see if that pup has any more room in his doghouse) or tell your Mom no.  Assuming you like your husband, and sleeping in your bed, you are going to have to tell your Mom no.

NO explanations, NO apologies, No is a complete sentence #nothanks Click To Tweet

The wrong way

You: Mom, I am really sorry, I have a date with Dave and we have dinner reservations and I really wouldn’t have time to pick up the dog and then get home in time to make the reservations, maybe I could pick the dog up earlier and leave work early, do you want me to check?

Mom: Oh that would be great dear, he is usually done a little early so it shouldn’t be a problem.

This explanation is beyond long, and you have put yourself in a position to mildly irritate your boss and your spouse. You are also going to end up running around like crazy, and if the dog isn’t done early or there is traffic you are going to miss your date. Basically you just added a ton of stress to your life.

The Right Way;

You: Mom, I am sorry but I have a date with Dave tomorrow.

Mom: Okay dear, you and Dave have fun, I will see if I can reschedule at the groomers.

Now we broke both rules, but we kept it brief and didn’t let our guilt try to figure out a way we could be at 3 places at once.  Does it always go this easy?  Of course not, but if you can stay your course and not get dragged into a more emotional conversation, you have a better chance at keeping your schedule and your sanity.

When an Excuse is Necessary

Your client calls and asks for a discounted rate on a project because it will generate a lot of hours.   In this case you can give a very brief explanation, and even be proactive about it, but don’t apologize for your rates.  You are worth it or they wouldn’t want you to do the project. Something like this:

Client:  Hi, I would really like you to do this major project for me, you will get a lot of hours out of it, can you give me a break on your hourly rate?

You: No my prices are firm

Client: Come on we have worked together before and I might be able to throw some more work your way.

You: No, my prices are my prices. What is your budget for the project? I will give you write up on what I can do for that price.

This response is polite, professional and firm.  It also shows the client you are willing to work with them.  Yes they may go elsewhere, but often times if you give someone a discount once, they will come looking for it again.

In all of the scenarios a simple no, or a very brief explanation is all that is required.  When you get sucked into an emotional conversation you can easily get talked into things that will add stress to your life.  Save your sanity, just say no.





  1. Julie

    March 20, 2016 at 7:16 pm

    This is great! I’m going to try to remember these tips. 👍

    1. Michele

      March 20, 2016 at 10:04 pm

      I am so glad you liked it, and you have the honor of being my first commenter!

  2. Petra

    March 25, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    I love this. As a recovering co-dependent and one that always said sorry, I have been incorporating a lot of this already. But there is always room for improvement!

    1. Michele

      March 25, 2016 at 7:39 pm

      I am really glad you liked it! It is so hard to take “sorry” out of our vocabulary, but it is so empowering. When I first started trying to take it out of mine I would say sorry by accident and then sorry for saying sorry in the first place. Ugghhh! but it has made my communication skills much better and when something feels off, I can just say no!

Leave a Reply