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Learning How to Just Say No!

by Joe A. Martin, Jr., Ed.D.

You’ve heard it (and have probably said it) too many times:

“I have too many things to do.”

“I’ll never catch up.”

“I trying to do to much too soon.”

“I can’t handle all of this.”

“I’m going to have a nervous breakdown.”

“Please, don’t ask me to do any more.”




All of these stress-induced comments are more than likely a result of our failure to say one of the simplest words in the human language: “NO.”

“No, I can’t be there tonight because I’ve made plans.”

“No, I wish I could, but I can’t chair that committee.”

“No, I don’t have time to hang out and gossip with you.”

“No, I have a prior commitment, but I’ll consider your offer next time.”

“No, I won’t do your part of the project.”

“No, I’m not ready to take on that additional responsibility.”

“No” is probably one of the few words that doesn’t require a definition in the dictionary. So why is it so hard for us to use it when we need it the most? Judith Martin (no relation), better know as “Miss Manners,” says that in our own attempts to be nice, most of us take one of three wrong turns down the road to “no.”

1. We say “yes” to satisfy or pacify the person requesting, while simultaneously calculating a last minute excuse to get out of what we agreed to.

2. We decorate the “no” with a fancy explanation.

3. We simply cave into the request and show our displeasure with shrugs, grunts, and muttered curses.

When it comes to saying “no,” we believe we’re going to hurt the other person’s feelings if we don’t comply; when in all actuality, agreeing against our will to do something we really don’t want to do is probably doing the requester more of a disservice; it undermines the trust and respect between the both of you.

According to Miss Manners, saying no in and of itself is not rude. She says, “You have choices. You can say no, but you can do it politely.” Miss Manners continues, “The trick is knowing how to say it.” So here are some tips from Miss Manners herself on how to reduce your stress level by just saying no:

1. If somebody tries to pressure you into doing something you really don’t want to do or have time to do, the less you engage them the better. Meaning, you should say “No, thank you,” period; “I’m very sorry, I’m busy,” period; “Thank you, but I’d rather walk home,” period. The key is not just to say “no,” but to shut up afterwards. Miss Manners says that if you continue to engage the requester, more than likely, the conversation will result in an argument. In other words, you don’t owe anyone an explanation (principals, parents, students excluded). You’re in charge of your own time.

2. If somebody is rude in their request for something (i.e., Shouldn’t you dump that good-for-nothing boyfriend of yours?), do not return rudeness with rudeness. Instead, refuse to engage that person. Miss Manner suggests that you don’t argue the issue, because you don’t accept the basis for their opinion (it’s their problem, not yours). She recommends you say, “How nice of you to take an interest in my private affairs,” period. And if you really do want advice on your relationship, ask someone who has your best interest at heart, not someone who wants to crush your feelings.

3. If you have to say no to somebody very close to you, Miss Manners suggests that you do whatever you possibly can to get across your love and sympathies. In other words, don’t say, “I have something else to do.” This implies that “something else” has priority over them. Instead, say something like, “It’s going to hurt me to miss your event, but there’s nothing I can do to change my schedule at the last minute. However, I’ll be thinking about you.”

4. If you have to say no to an authority figure (i.e., principal, administrator, etc.), let them know what your other obligations are. Most of the time they simply don’t have a clue. Miss Manners suggests a response like, “I’m currently working on Project Y for you; if you’d prefer me to work on Project X, then Y will probably be late.” The key is not to be confrontational or defensive when responding. I know this is much easier said than done.

5. If someone is trying to sell you (or get you to contribute to) something you don’t won’t or need, just simply say, “I’m sorry, but I’m not interested,” and you cut it off. Miss Manners says that there are always people out there who think it’s more polite to listen to a person’s entire sales pitch. To this she responds, “People who sell are only concerned about selling, not about trying to pass the time of day.” So your guilt-induced politeness is serving no one, especially you.

I’m convinced that if we learn to say “no” to more things and start to major in majors, not minors, then we will take massive strides in reducing our stress level. As a teacher, do you really need to bite off more than you can chew? Well, if Nike’s campaign says, “Just Do It,” New Teacher Success adopts the anti-drug slogan, “Just Say No.” And who knows, maybe a simple “no” might be the major difference between your current stress and your future success.


Joe Martin is an award-winning national speaker, author, professor, and educational consultant. His mission is to help students, teachers, and administrators learn, lead, and live with purpose and passion. To find out more visit his web site at


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