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How to say NO: a mini guide to setting boundaries

How to say NO: a mini guide to setting boundaries

The word ‘no’ can bring a negative charge and can be difficult to express. Fortunately you can learn how to say no. Here are a few tips to help you!

1. Don’t make excuses

The American researchers Patric and Henrik Hagtvedt had experimental subjects on how to say no to an important request. Half of them were told to say “No, I can’t” (that is, to make an excuse), while the others were told to say “No, I don’t…” The people who used an excuse (“No, I can’t”) had a harder time refusing requests and demands. An excuse leaves room for discussion, in which you might be persuaded to say yes after all. Saying ‘no’ without an explanation shows that you set clear boundaries for yourself and that others must respect them.

2. Pause to reflect

When you feel like a request has caught you unprepared, take time to reflect. Go for coffee, take a bathroom break or ask for time to think about it. Take the intiative and let the requester know when you plan to respond. It’s helpful to take the time to consider what you want, especcially if your first instinct is to say what the other person wants you to say.

3. Know your basic needs

We often say yes even though we mean no. Look at the list of twelve basic needs below and ask yourself which ones are most important to you. Wich of your buckets are full, and which ones are only half full? When do you notice that in conversation with others? Think back to a time when you wanted to say no but said yes anyway, and try to sense whether one of these basic needs influences your response. What needs do you like to have fulfilled by other people? Answering that question will help you detect and understand your vulnerabilities.

  • Acceptance
  • Encouragement
  • Understanding
  • Trust
  • Confirmation
  • Admiration
  • Acknowledgement
  • Security
  • Reassurance
  • Respect
  • Approval
  • Appreciation

Sources: The power of a Positive No, by William Ury, 2008

In issue 17, ‘From the heart’, Manon Sikkel wonders why it’s sometimes so hard for us to utter ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Do you want to read more about the power of saying yes and no? Click here for issue 17.

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