Mental Help Net
Relationship Problems
Basic InformationMore InformationLatest NewsQuestions and AnswersBlog EntriesVideosLinksBook Reviews
Therapist Search
Find a Therapist:
 (USA/CAN only)

Use our Advanced Search to locate a therapist outside of North America.

Related Topics

Family & Relationship Issues
Homosexuality & Bisexuality

Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

The Importance of Saying "No"

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 30th 2012

The Importance of Saying "No"The other evening we were out to dinner with friends. One of them was very dissatisfied with his order because it was too well done. When I suggested that he complain to the waiter, he reacted in a way that was very familiar. He refused to do so because he didn't want to wait any longer to have his meal.

In a different restaurant at a different time, a waiter served dish that I found to be very tough and over cooked. The proprietor of the restaurant took the dish and returned in a few minutes to tell me that he tasted the meat and found it to be fully acceptable. I never returned to that establishment again. I expect to be treated with more respect than that when I am paying for a dinner. What was particularly irksome was that I was a regular there and he will knew it.

With regard to my friend and having been in this situation with family members and other friends, I guessed that he was reluctant to complain, much less ask for a new dish. This type of situation falls under the heading of assertiveness or just saying "no."

Many of us find it difficult to say no but the question is why this is so? The reasons are many and probably include such factors as:

1. Wanting to be liked.
2. Worrying that others will be angry if you say no.

3. Fearing the loss of a friendship.

4. Feeling guilty and selfish if you say no.

5. Wishing to please everyone.

Clearly, in my situation, the proprietor did not like my complaining and was not accommodating. That is why I never returned. There are no guarantees that people will like it if you refuse them. There is always some risk that, in refusing a friend a favor that you will be rejected.

On the other hand, it is a mistake to assume that you will always be disliked or rejected if you refusing a favor or asserting yourself in some other way.

Regardless of how others may react to a refusal, there is a price to be paid for always saying "yes." By constantly agreeing to do things that do not feel comfortable doing or that are inconvenient, there is a risk of becoming depressed, frustrated and overly angry. Emotions become pent up by failing to be able to advocate for one's self. It is not uncommon for people to eventually explode into depression or rage if they are not taking care of themselves. In the case of my friends, he brooded over his meal right down to the end. The rest of us just let him complain, not wanting to add insult to his injury. He has a problem saying no and that is something he needs to work on, as he well knows.

It is important to point out that one does not refuse out of just exercising that right. Rather, refusing to do something or asserting how you feel or what you want, are things that are done when it is necessary. Sitting in a restaurant and eating something that was incorrectly prepared, or, constantly agreeing to do things for a friend who is constantly asking, are the types of situations that call for some self defense or self advocacy.

Some rules about saying NO.

1. It is not possible to please everyone by always agreeing.

2. Consider the fact that, if the other person cannot accept your refusal then they have a problem. For example, it was short sighted of the restaurant proprietor to refuse a regular customer who rarely complains. It is not good business practice. He had some kind of problem that was not my fault.

3. In asserting one's self, there is no reason to be rude. If a friend requests a favor that you are not able to forgive, explain why and in a way that is friendly.

4. If you are a person who feels guilt about refusing, try not to let that happen.

Finally, if assertiveness continues to plague you then I can suggest assertiveness training that many people find helpful. There is also cognitive behavioral therapy that helps build the social skills that have to do with self advocacy.

What are your experiences with being able or not able to say, "no?"

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

A bit difficult - Rajesh Yedida - Feb 3rd 2012

This makes good sense. I know its hard to know say no especially to our loved ones. But if we can be assertive then eventually they will understand and the relations get stronger and more intimate. This is my personal experience. I had problems saying no. But I reached a point where I couldn't fulfil my basic responsibilities as I agreed to do many things in a given time. It took a while for people around me to understand when I started being assertive. Now they accept my no without a pinch of salt.

Follow us on Twitter!

Find us on Facebook!

This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
verify here.

Powered by CenterSite.Net