A woman peering down as she tilts her sunglasses

Many of us navigate our personal and professional relationships while trying not to rock the boat. We’ve been told, implicitly and explicitly, to be agreeable and to go with the flow. Sometimes, we’re told to do this even at the expense of our own wants and needs.

Some instances may seem insignificant, like not bothering to correct the barista who accidentally mixed up your coffee order. While others have more of a direct impact like accepting an extra project at work despite already being overwhelmed.

We don’t want to be rude. We want to be team players. While that’s understandable, when we do this, we often wind up robbing ourselves of the respect we so freely give to others. One simple word can begin to shift this pattern and restore balance to our lives: No.

Here’s how you can use this two-letter declaration to effectively communicate and set healthy boundaries in your life.

Get clear about your values.

It is said that all relationships require give and take, but, let’s be honest. There are some things that other people simply won’t take. That’s where values come into play. In order to know when the word “no” is necessary, it helps to get clear about what you stand for, or more importantly, what you won’t stand for.

Some situations may be obvious nos like missing important family events or working outside of contracted hours. Others may be a bit less clear. This is where your intuition comes in. If you want to say no, then you probably should. If you feel regret after agreeing to go to an event after a long day or your stomach drops after accepting that date, your emotions may be trying to tell you something.

If you want to say no, then you probably should.

Honor that. Get curious about that feeling. You can always, always change your mind.

Understanding what’s important to you makes it easier to spot red flags and may make it easier to challenge them when they arise. Psst, as a golden rule for all of us, if our mental health or safety is being compromised, then a boundary is always necessary. 

Keep it short.

Sweetness is optional, but brevity is not. Honestly, the more concise the better. When setting boundaries, it’s tempting to ramble on, explaining our decision and qualifying our feelings. In reality, you don’t really owe anyone an explanation and reserve the right to decline whenever you deem it necessary.

As novelist Anne Lamott once said, “No is a complete sentence.” For the sake of clarity, tell it like it is. Be direct. This communicates confidence in your decision and doesn’t leave any room for misunderstandings or miscommunication.

Tell it like it is. Be direct. This communicates confidence in your decision.

In response to the overreaching boss who put yet another proposal on your desk, your response may sound like, “No, I’m not comfortable taking on that project.” Responding to a disrespectful friend, partner or colleague may sound like, “I will not tolerate you speaking to me that way.” In many other situations, it may just sound like, “No.” Music to all of our ears!

Sorry, not sorry.

We really ought to remove the word “sorry” from our vocabulary when it comes to setting boundaries. What are we even apologizing for? You are setting a boundary and that is never something that begs forgiveness from others.

In fact, the only person who may deserve an apology in this case is you for not confidently honoring your needs sooner. If saying no feels too blunt, you can add a “thank you” to the other person for their time, flexibility or understanding.

No means no.

If you only take away one piece of advice from this article, let it be this one. If you want to say no, say no. That is your right. It’s really that simple. You never need to feel bad about setting a boundary in protection of your own health and well-being.

If you want to say no, say no…It’s really that simple.

If the desire to avoid conflict has left you feeling ill-equipped to navigate situations that test your boundaries, then return to the word no. Incorporating its use into your communication will restore your sense of agency and remind you of your power. Boundaries are beautiful because they not only preserve our well-being, but they empower others to do the same.

Setting boundaries isn’t rude or disrespectful; in fact, it’s the exact opposite. Bring clarity, confidence and transparency to your relationships by saying no when you want to and create space for the opportunities that will make your heart say yes.

How proficient would you say you are at setting boundaries in your personal and professional life? Is there a relationship where you need to set some clear boundaries?

Image via Ted Emmons, Darling Issue No. 14

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