How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

How to Say No WIthout Feeling Guilty

You promised yourself you wouldn’t overbook your schedule and then you found yourself saying “Yes I’d love to…” while your insides screamed- Noooo!

Sound familiar?

Between the barrenness of busyness, our innate proclivity to people-pleasing, and not wanting to feel uncomfortable, I’d bet that many of us have found ourselves doing things we really didn’t want to do or have the excess financial, mental, emotional, or time capacity to do.

You can say no, you know?

Yet so many successful women won’t let that little one syllable word pass through their lips.

Here are some strategic and practical tips to give yourself permission and willingness to let N-O out.

Know What You Want

Don’t let yourself get put on the spot fumbling for words.  It is important that you get clear on what you do and do not want from your time. This will change based on the time of your life, phase of your business, season of the year, and a host of other evolutionary things.  I recommend taking a few minutes to reflect on this regularly (at least quarterly).

What are your rules?

  • No commitments on weekends.
  • No work on weekends (Are there certain criteria that override this – say a prized speaking gig or primo assignment?)
  • No additional volunteering until x, y, z is over.
  • No clients after 5pm, no clients between 3p-7p, before 9a, etc…
  • No scheduled appointments on a particular day/half-day when you work “on” your business.
  • And so forth…

Get clear on your priorities.  In this way you can answer proactively and not in an emotional or reactive way (which never goes as well.)

You get to choose how you invest your precious time. Permission to be selective is granted.

Speak Succinctly, Courteously, and Directly

No matter what comes out of your mouth, remember to: be gracious, be firm, and do not over-explain or defend your choice.  It is your choice!

Here are some tried and true ways to confidently and graciously say no.

  • (Because no is a complete sentence all by its lonesome.)
  • No thank you.
  • Thank you but unfortunately I won’t be able to (attend/volunteer) because I have other commitments (This is valid even if your other commitment is you, your book, a cat on your lap and a cozy blanket.)
  • I really appreciate you thinking of me/inviting me and I won’t be able to attend. (You can add – please think of me in the future – if you really mean it.)
  • I’m honored that you thought of me but I won’t be able to commit to volunteering at this time.

Short and succinct is key. Avoid that wimpy, wavering language of “kinda”, “sorta”, and the like.  Don’t be swayed by someone else’s reaction. That is their stuff, not yours.

When Client Scope Creep Rears Its Ugly Head 

Sometimes you need to say no to doing more work without additional pay. This is a different but equally powerful flavor of no.   It sounds more like a “yes we can do that, and here’s what it will take/cost”.  Never feel guilty about setting boundaries in this way.  Remember, if you went to the dentist and needed a second filling or more complex dential work, he wouldn’t hesitate to itemize your bill and carry on without missing a beat.

Here is some language to gracefully navigate this situation:

  • I would be happy to help you with that/do that for you and it is beyond the scope of our current agreement. Would you like me to provide you a cost estimate for the additional work?
  • We can definitely do that and it will cost an extra $_______ for this additional work.
  • As much as I’d like to help you out, that work is not in my area of expertise, so I would recommend X. (For instances where the new request is not within your area of expertise.)

You may notice that these statements don’t actually say no. They are more of a “yes … and” straight out of the rules of improv.  Usually you would like to do the extra work;  you simply want to get paid for it.  If it is not something you can do in your area of expertise or something you wouldn’t recommend then say that.

A Word About Feeling Guilty


In a word, that is the answer.

Guilt is about doing something wrong. You haven’t done anything wrong by making a choice and then honoring that choice by politely saying no. It’s called good boundaries and setting yourself up to be your best self.

If you haven’t said “No” much in the past, you may feel uncomfortable.  That comes with the territory of practicing a new skill and growing.  Allow the feeling to be there and act anyway (aka: say no).








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