Cup of Confessions: How to say no and stay professional?

Hello my sweet Strawberry Shortcakes,

You’re probably here because you’re so overloaded with work, you feel frustrated that everyone is coming to you for every little question, that even when you indicate you have a lot of work, that they still try to push you and you don’t feel confident enough to refuse, et cetera,… And so, you want to learn to say “no”.

Probably, you’ve made a feeble attempt:

  • You’ve actually tried saying it, but you sounded like a wounded aggressive animal. Making you feel guilty afterwards, resulting in you doing it anyway.
  • You’ve tried saying it gently, but the person asking it got what they wanted anyway, because they kept trying until you said yes.

Like with anything in life, it always starts with the “Why”…

I know… You’re scared that you’ll disappoint people. You’re scared they’ll dislike you. You’re scared that maybe you aren’t allowed to refuse. Or perhaps you think you don’t have the right to say no. Maybe you like to tell yourself that if it isn’t you who does it, that things will go wrong and that in the end you’ll be the one who has to fix it anyway.

The truth is, that you don’t believe in yourself.

I understand this may sound harsh to you, but please let me explain. I’ve been there too, and I had to learn it the hard way… When I was honest to myself and dug deeper in my heart to the core of the “why”, I came to the conclusion that:

  • I didn’t find my opinion valuable
  • I actually didn’t take myself, my values, my work seriously enough
  • Being busy kind of made me feel important
  • I actually dreaded to do the tasks that were assigned to me by my boss
  • I felt insecure about my knowledge
  • I felt that my work (or hobby or business) wasn’t important
  • I thought that other people’s work was more important than mine

If some of this sounds familiar to you, read on further…

Realize this:

  • NOBODY can (continue to) say NO for you

In order for you to be able to stand strong and feel like you have the right to say “no”, you need to understand that NOBODY will do it for you. At least not after a while. Because even the ones standing up for you, will end up believing you want this yourself…

  • How does it make you look?

I’m sorry to break it to you… but it may make you seem addicted to attention… Because on one hand you continue to accept crappy things to do that don’t contribute to any results at all (at least for you) and on the other hand, you either work super late to catch up your own work or you nag a lot about the workload. Either way, is this the kind of person you want people to see? Oh look, she’s at it again playing the victim. Yes yes, I’m sure that many colleagues feel for you and understand. But that doesn’t last. They end up getting tired of this negativity. Because essentially, you don’t do anything about it.

Another situation may arise in which you have formed or are part of the “nagging club”. The club of people who are there to moan all day and don’t actually wish to get out of their misery… These people tend to become cynical and lose all motivation to do their work and blame it on their boss, work environment,…

  • Do you actually love what you’re doing?

Be honest to yourself… do you even know what you want? Do you even know where you’re headed? Do you want to grow in this company? Do you want to start your own thing? Do you feel like staying in this comfortable job forever, or are you somehow hoping, you’ll miraculously get rich or get that promotion just because you’ve worked there for some time? Have you asked yourself this? Ok, so I’m obviously side tracking. But it’s such an important matter to mention.

As long as you don’t know where you’re headed, you can’t take yourself seriously. And so you lack some respect towards yourself and that’s why you’re having trouble refusing anything at all. This matter of goal setting is something I’m personally still trying to figure out. But surely there will be a post on it someday. I felt like mentioning this, because it’s a huge part in becoming confident.

  • It’s not because they ask you a question, that it means they want you to do it…

You may wrongly assume that people expect you to do something for them, just because they came to ask you a question. You need to let them finish their story and not assume that they’re there, because they need “poor you” to do it for them.

  • People like to negotiate

Nothing personal, it’s just a natural thing to do… Some are better at it than others. When they sense you will sway, they’ll try even harder… I’ve always been bad at it and that added to the frustration. Because it already took so much energy to say no, that it bothered me even more that they just continue to try. Realize that, it is their right… It’s up to you to be consistent about your answer.

In order to say “No” you must become confident!

Becoming truly confident, is a process that takes a lot time. But you can get more confident in small steps… It actually starts with “knowing” things.

  • How much time do you actually need to do a task?

Yes, I know, it depends on how many factors…, the amount of…, how complex,… bla bla bla. Been there, done that. Now, if you don’t know it, no one will… It’s as simple as that. You were assigned to do this job and you’re the only person doing it, specifically in your area. You’re the only one, who lives what you’re living. So defend it. No matter how complex it can get, you must have a rough estimation of how long it takes. Do not take your easiest case, do not take your most complex case either. Take a rough average and add a bit of bonus time to be sure… Knowing the time you need, can give you estimations for deadlines, so that you’ll be able to predict approximately how long it will take or whether you can accept a deadline or not. There’s no use adding work to your pile if you don’t have the knowledge whether you’ll finish it.

  • Be on top of your game.

Make sure you know exactly what there is to know in the software/system/process you’re working with. When someone pitches an idea, you must be able to immediately say whether it is a bad idea or a good one. You must be able to offer solutions because you work with it so much. You must have a clear opinion…

  • Be open minded at all times

Don’t let the following thought block you: I knew this already. You can always learn from something. Be open to suggestions. If you blow something off without considering it, people will eventually stop taking you seriously. So when time comes for you to actually say “No”, that won’t be taken seriously either.

How I actually say “No”

The thing is, I haven’t said the word “No” for a very long time now… “No” is not a decent sentence to me. Here are a couple of tips:

  • When I refuse something, I always back it up with “why” I won’t do it.
    • I think it’s better to…
    • It’s probably not a good move to…
    • The reason why I think this isn’t a very good idea is…
    • There a possibility that…
    • It’s less efficient to…
  • I kick the ball back in their camp… So that they can do the work themselves.
    • Have you tried this already?
    • Have you looked this up already?
    • Have you used this method yet?
    • Have you called them already?
  • I delay, to let them know that I have other priorities (even if I had the time). If you take more time and you finish your work earlier, you can always over perform (people are always delighted when you do better than promised). If you take your deadlines that are way too short, you’ll always end up disappointing someone.
    • My priority for this week is…
      • them: “yes, but it’s super urgent”
      • me: “I understand, but my other task is a direct order from my boss”
    • I may have time for this starting next week…
  • Be prepared for the next question they’ll ask when you say you can’t do it, which is “when can you?”.
  • Avoid misunderstandings concerning your job description. When someone asks you whether you can do something for them, you must always make sure they understand that it isn’t part of your job.
    • You can put them in contact with the actual person who’s in charge (so that you’ve helped your colleague further, without actually having to do it).
    • You can explain them the procedure of how something works or tell them where to find it, or even send it to them via mail.


I’m not a coach, nor a psychologist. Today’s post is based on my own experience. These are the things I’ve learned for the past 6 years and they’ve helped me grow. Or maybe, it was because I had grown that I’ve learned this.

Refusing something generally doesn’t make you less likeable. It’s all about the attitude. When you objectively say no, just because you know it’s not right, you will actually get more respect for it than when you continuously nod. Like Marie Forleo says, saying No to something, is saying Yes to something more useful, because you make time for something more important.

If you can do this objectively and with true confidence and knowledge, you will also be less likely to snap at someone… You don’t wait for the other person to finally respect you. You simply give them no choice…

So that wraps up my post! I’m sorry it got so long. I had first planned to make a quick post. But as I was writing it, the words kept coming… It’s simple, but yet not simple…

Anyways, hope it somehow inspired you! Have a lovely week!



7 thoughts on “Cup of Confessions: How to say no and stay professional?

  1. LivingOutLoud says:

    Hi Sarah!
    I love your posts. Thanks for sharing this advice. I know that I have definitely spent a lot of time struggling to say no and taking on too many projects.
    I have been trying to think of how to apply this to a slightly different kind of scenario. My dilemma is that my Grandma (who I was very close to) passed away a few days ago. I was sad that I was not able to be there to say goodbye, but thankfully I talked with her on the phone a few weekends ago and we had a lovely conversation and I was able to tell her everything I needed to say. Her passing was sudden and she had a stroke so when I talked with her I had no idea it would be our last goodbye. I found out this morning that her funeral is in about a week, but I live thousands of miles away and would have to fly there. I am currently working fulltime and doing an internship. Usually, I would jump on going back, but a bigger reason for my hesitation is that my mom’s sister and brother have been picking on her and have been severely disrespectful to my parents and my sister. At my little cousin’s funeral in February my mom’s sister’s boyfriend told my mom that he hopes she rots in hell (and he does not even know her.)
    I know my mom would also want me to sing at Grandma’s funeral because I sang at Grandpa’s, but I am leaning towards saying no. I am worried that it would be taken as disrespectful, but I feel like my Grandma would understand. That side of the family has a tendency to have very negative outbursts and I feel like it would foreshadow the reason for the actual occasion. Is it wrong to say no in this instance? You don’t have to give a definite answer. I think it was just another case where I feel comfortable talking with you about it.

    ❤ Alana


    • sarahscupofbeauty says:

      Hi Alana,

      I’m so sorry for your loss girl… And thank you for sharing your story. You’re my friend and I of course am here for you. Being torn in a negative spiral that can sometimes be family is something I know everything about. Especially as I have a huge family and that everyone has their say in everything. When we’re honest to ourselves, it’s all about immaturity coming from their side… from insecurity and jealousy… I of course don’t know the story of your family. The hardest part is taking a step back and trying to think clearly. Because pressure and guilt are pressing in on you. But try to take a good warm bath and rule out all the outside negativeness and ask yourself: What is the worst that could happen if you go? How would you handle it? How would you feel? Then ask yourself What is the worst that could happen if you didn’t go? How would you then feel? Relieved or regret? Everything has to do with your grandma and you. Don’t go because you feel pressured, but go or don’t go because you choose to. Is singing at her funeral something you’d like to do for her? Than do it. If you feel that it’s not necessary, that you singing in a park thinking of her is enough, than that is okay. Do what your heart yearns to do. I know how hard it is to rule out the negativity the family can throw at you. At this point, I feel like you’d rather not go. But I’m not sure whether it’s what you truly want or whether it’s out of the fact you don’t want to see the other side of the family. Go over the questions I wrote here above before. It helps you ease your mind and stand behind your decision. Because at the end of the day Alana, it’s your call…

      I hope it helps. Good luck and stay strong. Love, Sarah

      Liked by 1 person

      • LivingOutLoud says:

        Hi Sarah,
        Thank you so much for reading and for these helpful prompts to think about. A major part of it feels like a no-brainer because I was so close to Grandma I should definitely be there, but then there is the question of what would honor her the most. When Grandpa passed, I was heartbroken, but was able to get through singing and the entire ceremony without crying. I felt a sense of urgency to remain strong. I think this might be different. I will take lots of time to think on it and figure out what will be best. Also knowing that it takes place in 8 days does not provide much time to plan and travel. Thanks again for always being such an understanding and supportive friend.

        ❤ Alana


    • sarahscupofbeauty says:

      Rereading it, definitely seems like you have the tendency of not going and feeling more like it’s an obligation. You should definitely not feel like you have to go for anyone else. Your mom would definitely be understanding of it too. And you knew your grandma well. If you know she’d be okay with it, then do what feels right to you. I mean, I used to be the person to do something I didn’t feel like doing anyway, because it felt like it was my duty. But at the end of the day, you should only do it for you, for your grandma. It is not wrong to say no. In fact, it would be wrong to go, if your whole being is against it. It feels like a tight tug in your belly. It’s like the fibers in your body are working against you going… If that’s how you feel, then there’s nothing to be feeling guilty about. You shouldn’t feel forced to do it. As I said, working to say no to something should be for the right reasons which you’ve mentioned above… You should know full well why you say no, because when you say you won’t do it, the first question you get is “why”. Don’t feel like you have to defend yourself. Don’t feel anxious or angry saying it. But stand behind your why. This will help you get over your guilt… Because I think that’s what’s slightly holding you back to say no…

      Liked by 1 person

      • LivingOutLoud says:

        Thank you for understanding, dear friend. I think another factor is that I might not be able to make it logistics wise with the travel, work, and my internship in such a short time frame. Overall, just trying to prepare myself, but when I first started writing about it I could not pinpoint whether my biggest challenge really was the logistics, my internal struggle, or just feeling like going would not be best. We had a recent death in our family in February and the behavior of my aunts and uncles was just so awful I really feel like it majorly detracted from the occasion. These same people were very nasty towards my parents and my sister and I know they are going to be at the funeral. I will get to the bottom of it all and figure out what I need to do to honor Grandma. Thanks again, my dearest friend.

        ❤ Alana

        Liked by 1 person

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