The 7 Biggest Mistakes People Make When They Say No - Christine Kane

This is crazy.

I work with wildly powerful women who run wildly powerful businesses.  Many of them will talk about anything when it comes to business, mindsets, strategy.  They’ll “go there” without hesitation.

But as soon as the topic of Saying No comes up, they’ll sit back in their seats.


“Tried that. Didn’t work.”


In fact, it seems the only thing they’re willing to say no to is… Saying No!

But saying no is crucial in order to move to the next level in your life or business.   In fact, one of the items in the Tool Kit of my Uplevel Your Life Mastery Program is a series of scripts and templates for saying no authentically. After all, it’s impossible to Uplevel if you don’t know how to eliminate and release!

Saying No isn’t hard.  It’s just that many of us unconsciously do it wrong.  Here are the seven biggest mistakes people make when they say no…

Saying No Mistake #1 – Waiting until you’re put on the spot

Most people never actually take time to get clear on their No’s.  They wait until they’re put on the spot – and then they let their emotions (guilt, fear, anxiety) make their decisions for them!

While you can’t be prepared for every request that comes your way, you can get clear on your No’s in advance.   I call this The Proactive No.

Write your list of Proactive No’s on a day off. “No volunteer positions on weekends.”  “No more committees.” “No Sunday night dinner parties.”  Get clear about how you want to honor your time and priorities. That way when you say no, it will be in direct response to a system, not to your emotions!

Saying No Mistake #2 – Over-explaining

Rather than saying a clear “No,” many people try to explain their way out of it. This only digs them deeper into the muck.

When you over-explain yourself, you embody uneasiness.  Over-explaining says,  “I don’t really mean this, so I’m trying to find proof.” Or “This will only be valid if you agree with me.”

Saying No Mistake #3 – Using unclear wimpy language

Language is a key element of effective “No-Saying.”

Empowered language is clear, firm, compassionate, and keeps the focus on the issue. Most people get so nervous and distracted that they ultimately do themselves a disservice by speaking at all. They ramble through the territory of the “sort of,” “kinda,” and “ya know.”

Empowered language stops the rambling.  “I’m getting clear on my priorities so I’m cutting back on the extra activities in my life. In order to honor that intention, I need to say no. Thanks for understanding.”

Saying No Mistake #4 – Trying to get approval

Rather than simply turning something down, sometimes you might “campaign” for your No.  You want to say “No.”  But that’s not enough.

You also want the parties involved to approve of your “No,” agree with your “No,” and not be mad at you for saying “No.”

(Can I get an “Amen!” ???)

Saying No means that some people might be disappointed in you. That’s their “stuff.”  Accept that.  Give them the gift of allowing their disappointment. Give yourself the gift of having preferences.

Saying No Mistake #5 – Hoping people will just ‘get it.’

Not responding at all.  Putting the request off for a week.  Avoiding eye-contact. These are the dances we do, hoping that people will just “get it.”

The problem with this approach is not that you’re not being “nice” to other people.

The problem is that you aren’t being complete with yourself.  These little “Non-no’s” are actually draining your creative energy.   Stop the leaks, and say no in the moment!

Saying No Mistake #6 – Promising something you don’t mean

There’s a “Friends” episode where Ross’s new girlfriend asks him where their relationship is “going.”  Ross admits to his Friends that he doesn’t want the relationship to go anywhere. But rather than stating this to his girlfriend, Ross gives her the keys to his apartment and tells her he loves her.

It’s a funny episode because it shows how much energy and integrity we lose when we dishonor our own preferences and desires – all in an effort to avoid another person’s disappointment.

Saying No Mistake #7 – Giving in to guilt

When you say No, you might have to deal with some guilt.

At first, being on your own side is scary.  This is why some people cave in as soon as the discomfort of guilt arises.  Within a week, they change their mind and opt back into the thing they didn’t want to do in the first place.

Wavering and waffling sends shaky messages to everyone involved, including yourself.   Allow the guilt, and just experience it. You’ll get more comfortable after a little practice!

Let’s face it. Saying No is uncomfortable sometimes. But once you experience the clarity and space that comes from saying No successfully, then you’ll never want to go back to the way you used to do it!

  • Susan

    I have no problem saying no. If it isn’t something for my kid, going to bring food into my house, or make me money, I’m not leaving my house. Period. Those are my priorities.

  • Lily

    What a great topic, and ensuing discussion! Cheryl – I’m wondering that if you feel obligated to attend these life events, then possibly some of those people may also feel obligated to invite you? I don’t know. But maybe there are other ways for you to show them – and assure yourself – that you care, without sacrificing your schedule. Like sending an e-card, or note in the mail, to say that you thought about them, with an encouraging word or favourite scripture for the occasion.

  • Sandra

    My only problem is when it comes to saying “no” to one of my family members. I can’t just say “no” because I will then be asked, “why?” When I say no, I don’t want to have to explain it. But family always hounds me until I do, and then they try to figure out a way to make it so that I can do what they want. For example, If I have “X” going on (or nothing at all and I make something important up), they’ll squeeze more info out of me in order to figure out what time I’ll be done, etc. so I can end up doing what they want anyway (in other words, so I will have no excuse).

  • Cheryl

    I am a pastor’s wife. We have been serving in our church with my husband as senior pastor for 37 years so have lots & lots of long term relationships. We have countless invitations which are very important to the inviters for graduations, significant birthdays, funerals, weddings, commemorative events, significant anniversary etc. etc. I find it SO hard to say NO to things that involve people I have known most of my adult life who love me. To add to this some of the “request invitations” are people we have known who now life in neighboring communities and who are not part of our church.

    People who invite people like us feel like we are as excited as they are about the event and can’t wait to attend!

    Is anyone in this situation and have any input?

    • Susan

      Send a card with a great message inside. Acknowledgement of how excited you are for them even though you cannot attend.

  • Susie Monday

    My biggest problem with “no” is that I genuinely DO want to do many of the things I’m asked, but I also know that time is finite. I agree that the best strategies are those I have in place ahead of the ask. But I also want to reserve the right to say “yes’ if it seems that the universe is taking me someplace new that I want/need to go. In that case, I have to find gracious ways of getting a former yes to a no without reneging on firm commitments. Sometimes, once I have said yes to something, others assume I meant that I will ALWAYS say yes to that something. Whew. Sounds like carping!

  • Andrea

    The part about being taken by surprise by a request or invitation is really hard for me. It makes total sense to have some scaffolding (intentions, goals, dreams, fantasies) to fit the question to and give a true answer. I have been saying no a lot lately and not feeling guilty…I do give a huge smile.

  • Christine Kane

    Thanks everyone! (My readers leave the coolest comments!)

    And no matter how “rational” we get about saying no – I can’t begin to describe how many people I coach through the “no” process. Guilt can be a strong heavy entity!

  • Sue

    Saying ‘no’ to something good to say ‘yes’ to something great. You taught me this at the first retreat I went to, and it stuck. A great lesson, thanks!!!

  • Giulietta Nardone


    Super post. Also like the helpful comments that have been left by your readers. Saying No makes room in our lives for saying Yes to the Yes we really want to do. For the most part, we are not taught to be honest about our feelings or the feelings of others.

    Dare to be different! Dare to be you.

  • Teri Hawkins

    excellent post! “No” is the greatest support and empowerment for “Yes” that we have. Without “No” – ” Yes” has no power, no purpose, no reason for being. Additionally “No” is a complement, a kindness, a statement of trust.

  • Pat D.

    Great post. I think that 5 out of 7 are nice reminders, but if you learn to say “NO” properly, you won’t even need those reminders. There is no need to explain or rationalize your answer. Just say “It was kind of you to ask, but I can’t come (participate).” End of story. Have a HUGE smile of your face and on in your voice. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. I find that if you offer excuses, people will “help” you clear your calendar of those excuses so you can join them in the event.

    One good response to the irritating question of “What are you doing next Saturday evening?” (which is a horrible way to segue into offering an invitation up) is to say “Why do you ask?” again, with a huge smile on your face and in your voice.

    Simple and effective. Takes practice but try and close your mouth after you say “no thank you.” Guilt? I can live with the guilt! It goes away in about 2 minutes. ;-D

    My therapist taught me to say no GRACIOUSLY. He read about it in a book about one of our former first ladies who was beset with invitations and obligations. She had the idea that if you need to feel better about saying no, it goes over easier with the folks by having a bigger ‘YES’ behind the no. Example: “If I say ‘yes’ to doing this charity event, it means I am saying ‘no’ to my family.”

  • Stacey

    Nice post! I think #7 is a biggie. I don’t have trouble saying no but I know the discomfort that comes up for my friends is a significant impediment. I recently heard someone on an Oprah “webinar” say “Change is a mix of discomfort and hopefulness.” I think the quote perfectly captures what happens when we honor ourselves rather than subjugate our needs for those of others.

  • Kathy

    What do you mean people won’t just get it if you avoid eye contact and waiting to respond until they just give up asking? Ok, so I’m guilty of doing that and you’re right – it’s not very nice and I love the “energy leaks” symbolism. I’m great at saying what I do want but not so great at saying no to things I don’t want – especially if I have to actually say no to a person. I have gotten better at it over the years but still find this one challenging.

  • Laura

    I used to have so much trouble saying “no” — that vain desire of wanting to please everyone. However, 6 years ago, when I started graduate school on top of university teaching and homeschooling, I really got great at saying “no.” What happens is that people stop asking you to do so many things, or they get a different concept of you, and you don’t have to say “no” as often. I guess it goes into getting more of an attitude. Like anything else, once you get enough practice, it becomes easy to say “no.” Hugs, Laura