Saying “No” is a Skill
BY JOY WANG '23
You have a hard deadline at 11:59 p.m., and barely half of your essay is written. Suddenly, a cheerful ding! interrupts your frustration. You reach over to check the notification, only to feel your heart sink as you read the message: your friend is begging you to edit their essay. What should you do now? While the fear of being misunderstood may make you hesitate, saying “no” will ultimately bolster your self-confidence and help you maintain a healthy personal and social life.
Why setting boundaries is important (and what tactics to avoid).
Suppose you’ve resolved to not let your friend sway you. Good for you! Now, how should you go about it? Compromise often feels like a safe option, but it’s not always a viable Plan B. You might end up chronically neglecting your own work to help someone else, which is unproductive for both parties despite your good intentions. You may also be tempted to breadcrumb, or to lead someone on with small morsels of interest without an actual follow-up; it feels terrible to be on either end (guilt or isolation), so it’s important to resist indecisiveness right away.
Understand that your priorities may not align with the other person’s goals, so consider your own time and resources before making a lukewarm commitment. What do you need to prioritize right now? Why are these commitments important to you? Returning to the hypothetical essay scenario, maybe you’ve been struggling in History, and you need to submit a decent essay because you care about your education. Great! Now you have to do the tough part: say no.
How to set healthy boundaries.
Start by being kind but straightforward. This could look something like, “Hi, it looks like we’re in the same predicament, but I can’t help you right now.” Then, you can briefly explain why you can’t help (“...because I also have to finish my essay”), and end on a positive note (“In the future, I’d be open to peer edit!”). Don’t feel as if you have to explain your intentions; if you want to say no, you don’t need to justify it. This strategy doesn’t compromise or breadcrumb, and it gets your point across while sparing their feelings.
It can feel empowering to say no, especially when making difficult decisions, such as deciding how to reply to that friend. And saying no eliminates the awkward situation! No more headache, and no more frustration—well, maybe after you finish up your own essay.