Why Is Saying ‘No’ So Important?

Two people sit at table, looking at each other and holding coffee. One is talking to the other. Do you consider yourself a people pleaser?

Do you find yourself saying “yes” to people only to regret it moments later?

Do you tend to put others’ needs before your own?

If you answered in the affirmative to any of the above questions, it may serve you to become better at saying “no.”

William Ury, in his book The Power of a Positive No: Save the Deal, Save the Relationship—and Still Say No, suggests the dilemma we encounter in saying “no” often stems from an internal struggle between plugging into our own sense of power and a simultaneous desire to cater to, or foster, a relationship. Ury says we often find ourselves doing one of three things in response to a request:

  1. Accommodate. We say yes when we really want to say no. This brings us a temporary, false sense of peace, later be replaced with apprehension and resentment. We defer to the relationship with no regard for our power and ironically end up undermining the relationship in the long run.
  2. Attack. We often do this with those we love the most, the ones we take for granted. We say “no” aggressively, stepping strongly into our power, but with no regard or attention to the connection with the other person.
  3. Avoid. We don’t prioritize our personal power OR the relationship; in other words, everybody loses. We dishonor ourselves and amp up our own discomfort by leaving something unresolved and disrespect the other person by not providing them with an answer.

It’s important to be able to say no so you feel empowered while still maintaining your relationships with others. Saying no helps you establish healthy boundaries and enables others to have clarity about what they can expect from you.

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Some people question what to do when they don’t have an immediate answer to an inquiry. It’s okay to take a little time to think about your response. To keep yourself from avoiding altogether, provide a deadline by which you need to decide what your answer will be. Tell the other person something like, “I need to give your request some thought. I will let you know by noon Friday.” This deadline keeps you accountable and ensures that you honor both the relationship and yourself by providing a concrete reply in a reasonable time frame.

Being able to say no may enable you to be more honest and authentic with others. You may be less likely to feel taken advantage of, and people may learn to come to you for the things to which you are more inclined to say yes.

A helpful strategy that can enable you to say no with greater ease is to gain clarity around the kinds of things to which you want to say yes. Make a list of your top three priorities (and understand that they may change). Post these priorities where you will see them all the time: your bathroom mirror, your nightstand, your laptop, your car’s dashboard. When someone asks something of you, check to see if it will serve any of the things you declared you wanted to put your time and energy toward. If the answer is yes, feel free to answer the inquiry affirmatively. If it is not in line with your objectives, say no.

Be clear, confident, consistent, and concise. It’s not necessary to offer a lot of information to explain your reasoning (in fact, sometimes it can invite challenges to your “no”). However, you can say something about the kinds of things you are willing to do, or the time frame in which you might be in a better position to say yes. Doing so lets others know you are acknowledging the request, and demonstrates respect for the person who asked. Communicating to others that they’ve been heard can go a long way toward strengthening a relationship, even when you say no.

Another helpful strategy suggested by Ury is to have an “anchor phrase.” Examples might be “I have a policy …” or “I’d rather say no to you now rather than disappoint you later” or “I only volunteer in connection with a particular cause.” Once you have your anchor phrase, you can practice it. As a result of being proactive and prepared, you may be able to say no more confidently so you can say yes to things that are truly important to you.

Being able to say no may enable you to be more honest and authentic with others. You may be less likely to feel taken advantage of, and people may learn to come to you for the things to which you are more inclined to say yes. People may learn to respect your yes rather than take it for granted, you may find that your resources are allocated more appropriately, and your connection to, and communication with, others may be healthier as well.


Ury, W. (2007). The Power of a Positive No: Save the Deal, Save the Relationship—and Still Say No. New York, NY: Bantam Dell.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • martha g

    November 10th, 2016 at 11:35 AM

    It takes every ounce of strength that I have to generally be able to say no at times. I am a yes gal, and I usually hear it coming out of my mouth faster than I can stop it.

    I know that for my own good I need to cut back and step back a little and let there be more times where I let others handle their own problems.

  • Cassandra

    November 10th, 2016 at 12:30 PM

    If someone really respects you then they will not put it on you to have to say yes to their own individual needs all of the time. They will understand that this is not a feasible thing for anyone to have to do and they will love you whether you are doing something for them or not.
    Now your kids are a different story, they always want you to say yes, but what kind of lesson about life would this really teach them in the end? We have to be able to say both yes and no, to show them that this is the way life works and that sometimes compromise is the very best thing that any of us can hope for.

  • fox

    November 11th, 2016 at 11:13 AM

    But then you say no too much and people start to turn their back on you.
    Have to figure out a way to say yes just enough so that they don’t desert you.

  • Cyrus

    November 14th, 2016 at 7:41 AM

    Everyone has their eventual limit and if you stretch yourself too thin then you will be no good to anyone. The bad thing is that many of us do not understand what those limits are until we have hit the wall already.

  • sims m

    November 14th, 2016 at 10:17 AM

    The more you continue to say yes then the more they are going to continue to expect from you

  • Jeanna

    November 14th, 2016 at 2:37 PM

    Simply put you will find yourself getting more and more wound down if you can’t eventually take a little time out for yourself and give yourself the chance to say no. I am not saying that it is always easy because as someone who cares very deeply about other people and about what they think about me then I always feel like I am letting them down when I say no or can’t help in the way that I would necessarily want to. But then thing that I have to remember is that I have to be able to say no at least sometimes so that I can also be available to say yes at times too.

  • sally

    November 15th, 2016 at 9:02 AM

    Yep I will run and hide before I can outright say no to something. Avoidance is the key

  • Gunter

    November 15th, 2016 at 2:33 PM

    Why is it important to say no?
    because you have to come to understand that you are so much better than always being a yes man for someone else.

  • Laurie Leinwand

    November 15th, 2016 at 6:14 PM

    When you find yourself needing to say “no” to someone, ask yourself what you are saying “yes” to for you.

  • Loyd

    November 16th, 2016 at 3:10 PM

    Now that is a great tag line of advice Laurie!’That is one that I will certainly hang on to!

  • lazydaisy

    November 18th, 2016 at 11:28 AM

    We are very much doing our children a disservice if we only tell them yes. Is this is what the real world looks like or how they are going to be treated most of the time? No they aren’t. They need to be told no and then be given the tools for learning how to cope with disappointment and maybe even anger. If they are always told yes, then this is not how life is in the real world and you are setting them up for failure down the road.

  • Laurie Leinwand

    November 21st, 2016 at 5:10 AM

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. :)

  • Riley

    November 21st, 2016 at 3:19 PM

    Come on, it’s the only way to preserve your own self worth

  • Backbone

    April 7th, 2021 at 1:55 AM

    Being in control of our actions and decisions, helps us live healthier and happier lives. WE DESERVE IT!!

  • Shalu

    July 4th, 2021 at 11:42 AM

    I wanna say no….

  • Fatima

    October 11th, 2021 at 1:05 AM

    Then do it …..

  • Will

    May 13th, 2022 at 4:33 AM

    Laurie, you state that saying “no” to someone is saying “yes” to yourself…yet the definition of selfishness is “taking from others to their detriment for your own benefit”. How is saying “yes” to yourself not the definition of selfish?

    Alternately, what happens if you have absolutely nothing you want/need and someone knows it? Saying “no” to them here is also selfish…

  • hussijussi

    December 22nd, 2023 at 2:00 AM

    i thought no is wrong. i guess i was wrong.

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