Reducing Resentment: Learning to Say No

Over the years, regardless of the setting I’ve worked in as a therapist, one of the number one issues people want help with is learning how to say no and mean it. How do you protect your time and priorities in a kind way? How do we say no, but still stay “nice” or look like a team player? 

Man Wearing Suit Jacket Sitting on Chair in Front of Woman Wearing EyeglassesThere is an art to assertively saying no to those around us. Here are three simple steps I’ve identified to help you do it efficiently. 

1. Learn how to use the “slow yes.” Jonathan Becher complied a list of great quotes about learning to say no. CEO Tom Friel said, “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’” 

For some people, this seems obvious. Don’t say yes without thinking it through. But for people who habitually blurt out yes, this is so much easier said than done.

People often impulsively agree to things for several reasons. They want validation, they want to avoid conflict, they feel obligated to help everyone, they have to be “nice," they worry that if they don't do something, it won't get done. So often, people will say “yes” before they even think through the consequences of their decision. Unfortunately, when the dust has settled and they have yet another commitment, it is easy for resentment to creep in.

The best way to avoid this scenario is to implement the “slow yes.” There are several ways to do this. You can say, “That sounds like it could be fun, but I’ll have to look at my calendar and get back to you.” If you struggle with saying yes because of the desire to avoid the conflict from saying no, it may be easier for you to take a few days, calm down, then politely say, “I’m swamped lately and this isn’t a good time for me to add another commitment.”

Another technique involves waiting before answering emails or texts. One client admitted that if he immediately responded to his emails, he often impulsively said yes without thinking it through. He found that if he waited a few hours and thought about the situation objectively, he was more likely to respond calmly and could say, “I’m not ready to do that at this time, but I will let you know if that changes.”

2. Remember it is okay to change your mind. People who have difficulty saying no often struggle with guilt if they change their mind. They realize they don’t have the time or energy, but instead of telling others their plans have changed, they tell themselves, “you committed to this, you have to do it.” They stay up all night to complete a project or run around helping everyone, while their resentment begins to build.

If that is you, remember that very few things in life cannot be changed. There are some exceptions (you may not be able to walk away from a work commitment), but overall, few commitments are completely inescapable. It is okay to tell someone, “You know, I thought I had time for this, but I realized that I’m just unable to do it. You will have to find someone else.”

Even in a commitment at work that you can’t walk away from, there are often ways to resolve that as well. It is okay to say, “You know, I thought I could do this project completely on my own, but it’s larger than I thought. I would like to get help from someone else” or “is there someone on the team that can assist me with this? I want to make sure something this important is done well.”

3. Create a catchphrase. If you are saying yes to desperate or unhealthy people, they may try to pressure or guilt you into changing your mind (“But you’re the only person who knows how,” “I thought you cared about me”). However, if you know objectively that you need to say no, stay firm. Don’t let your emotions take over your response.

People who avoid conflict have a difficult time with this. They may say no to someone, but as soon as the person says, “Please stay, I need you,” or “I thought you were more committed to this process,” they change their mind. Guilt or a fear of conflict consumes them and they say, “You’re right. I’m sorry. I’ll keep helping you.”

If you find that saying no makes your heart race and you find yourself backpedaling or trying to defend yourself, a simple “catchphrase” can help. For example, when I worked at a call center, instead of trying to make excuses or defend myself, I was taught to say, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Regardless of how upset I was, I could say that sentence calmly and firmly.

When my friend who was a professor was confronted by angry students, she would say, “It’s in the syllabus.” If they got upset, she would simply repeat, “I understand you are upset, but it’s in the syllabus.” If you try to defend yourself and start getting flustered, unhealthy people will sense that you are weakening and keep trying to talk you into changing your mind.

If you know the person you are saying no is unhealthy, come up with a simple statement that you can repeat even if your adrenaline is going off. “I’m sorry, but I’m not able to help at this time.”

Often, people avoid saying no because it feels "mean," but long-lasting resentment from always saying "yes" can be more detrimental. In Rising Strong,* Brene Brown argues: "Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They're compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment."  

These are only a few techniques, but they are a great start. Listen to your gut, and if you feel the tendrils of resentment in your heart, try implementing these techniques. The discomfort of saying no in the moment will often prevent resentment in the future. So try using a slow yes or your catchphrase, deep breathe through any feelings of guilt or discomfort that come up, then relax. You'll be surprised how quickly you'll start to regain control of your schedule, your time and your life. 

*This is an Amazon affiliate link. If you click on it, I may or may not get a small kickback. Either way, Brene Brown is amazing and her books are worth reading. 


  1. Great advice, especially, " I'm sorry you feel that way. " Isn't it funny what should be common sense has to be retaught and relearned.

  2. It's so true. What seems like it should be an easy process can be really difficult, especially if you are in the church and there's a lot of pressure to always be serving and helping! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Oh I have been practicing the "no" for awhile now. What a life saver. Changing my mind is one I really need to work on. Thank you for sharing with Grace & Truth Christian Link-Up.

    1. Thank you for sharing with us over on Grace & Truth Christian Link-Up. Loved this post.

  4. This is good, Hilary. I've gone through seasons when I was very good at saying, "no." But there have also been times when I wasn't so good at controlling these things. I really like your idea of a catchphrase. I'm going to think about that!

  5. I have learned alot of things in this blog.This is really helpful and informative for me.If you are looking to buy an online the best Research Proposal Pakistan turnout to the thesis writing help for all the academic task.