When did ‘no’ become a dirty word? It’s time to reclaim it and get your life back!

Why women should say ‘no’ more often and how to do it gracefully


When was the last time you said that? If you can’t remember, take a minute to think back to the last time you attended a social gathering under duress or helped a colleague finish their work when you didn’t really want to. If you can remember such a situation more easily than you can remember the last time you said no, then you need to – like most women – learn to say no more often. 

Being agreeable and too polite are qualities ingrained in women from an early age. Men are never taught to be ‘likeable’; they are taught to be strong, smart, and successful. These are three important qualities that women too possess but find it harder to build on because it goes against their societal conditioning.

However, saying yes to everyone for everything tends to hold women back both professionally and personally. Here’s why you should make it a point to say no more often from now on:

  • You can prioritise your time and energy better

You know better than anyone that 24 hours a day is not enough for everything you want to do and have to do. Being able to say no to things and people that don’t align with your goals or priorities is an effective way of preserving your energy and prioritising your efforts and time. Think about it – would you want to spend your weekend catching up on sleep or would you want to (unwillingly) go on a trek with people from your gym whom you barely know?

Related: Have a busy life? Here's how to make time for your finances 

  • It helps you get rid of toxic people

It’s a fact of life that human beings can, either knowingly or unknowingly, be toxic to one another. When you get into the habit of saying no to things that don’t feel right to you, you also show the door to the toxic people in your life. Have you any friends that reach out to you only when they need something but never check in on you at other times? Say no to them the next time they want to meet up and whine about their problems. Saying no will help you get rid of all the manipulators, takers, and leeches from your life. 

  • It allows you to maintain good mental health

When you adopt the habit of saying no more often, you do a great deal to help maintain your mental health. Being too agreeable and nice is what leads to a lot of serious concerns in women – from impostor syndrome to depression. Women also tend to become more passive-aggressive as they age because there’s a lot of emotional build-up on the inside from years of having to agree to everything without demur.

Related: Why we need to focus on women's mental health? 

  • It helps you build and maintain boundaries 

Boundaries, both personal and professional, are vital because they help you stick to your beliefs and stand up for yourself. However, building boundaries is tricky and difficult because people often insist on crossing them. Every time you say no to someone for something – whether it’s giving up your parking spot at work or taking your work home – they will try to push you. But you have to remain firm and stand up for yourself. Doing this prevents you from being a pushover and lets you maintain your boundaries.

Now, all this may sound good, but how does one actually say no without hurting or offending the other person? There are several ways to say no gracefully, and depending on the context and situation, you can use any of the following approaches.

  • Direct them to someone else

This approach is especially helpful at work. When someone comes to you for something, and you can’t help them because you’re not free or don’t know how to help, don’t say a flat no. Instead, direct them to someone else who might be able to help them out in that situation. 

  • Don’t give an answer immediately

While it’s common to feel pressured to give an answer right away, don’t. Instead say, “I’ll get back to you” the next time someone asks something of you. This helps you get the space and time to think whether you’re up for it or not instead of immediately committing and then perhaps later cancelling. 

  • Give your reasons and be honest

Sometimes a person’s dilemma may pull at your heartstrings, and you may want to help but won’t be able to without derailing your goals and prior commitments. In such a situation, state your honest reason for declining and maybe cushion your refusal with a compliment to make it seem less abrupt.

  • Don’t bother with explanations

Alternatively, in some situations, just a simple no would suffice. For instance, if your boss expects you to show up to work on a Sunday, you can simply say, “I’m afraid that won’t be possible; I have some personal commitments.” Since Sunday is your day off anyway, you have no reason to be apologetic or give detailed explanations of what you’ll be doing and why you won’t be able to show up. 

  • Take a rain check

The easiest and least awkward way to get out of something is to say, “perhaps next time” or “could we take a rain check?” This works brilliantly in social situations – such as when someone asks you to come over for dinner or accompany them to an event. 

  • Say yes but on your own terms

Sometimes it doesn’t have to be a straight yes or no – it can be an in-between. For instance, if your friend has asked you to help her decorate her home for her child’s birthday party, you can tell her you’ll be able to do so, but only till noon. If you put down your terms upfront, neither of you will need to feel resentful, and you’ll still be there for the other person. 

Try these tips and soon you’ll see that you’re living life on your terms – feeling more confident, satisfied, and happy!