Saying “NO” and Setting Boundaries

Woman holding her hand up in a way of saying stop

If you’re a people pleaser, your automatic response is to say “yes” to everything, regardless of how busy you are.

It doesn’t matter if it’s work, family or friends asking you to do something, you say “yes” but in your mind, you start thinking, “why on earth did I say yes”.

You know why, it’s because you either feel like you should or for fear of letting someone down.

I remember those feelings all too well.

At work in my early twenties, when I was asked if I could quickly do something or when someone said… would you mind, I said yes. It was silly because I didn’t have time but I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it all.

The outcome?

More and more work was given to me and I found myself going into the office on a Saturday morning to make sure I stayed on top of it all. In many ways, it exasperated the problem because it was presumed that I had all the time in the world to do everything.

In my late twenties, I was made redundant and I started a new role as a Personal Assistant. The Head of Department decided to send me on a PA course and it was on the course, I realised I needed to start being assertive and set boundaries.

7 reasons why you might want to say “no” and set boundaries

In no particular order of importance.

  1. You don’t have time to do everything, it’s better to focus on key tasks and do those well rather than spreading yourself too thinly.
  2. You’re working 24/7, losing precious time with family and friends.
  3. You’re so busy spinning plates, cracks are starting to appear in the form of a deadline not being hit and/or errors being made.
  4. People are taking advantage of your goodwill, they know they can ask you to do something and you will say yes.
  5. It becomes expected that you can do everything within the timescale that has been set but the reality is, your co-workers/clients don’t see how late you are working.
  6. You’re feeling stressed because of the additional pressure you’re putting on yourself and you have noticed the impact on your health.
  7. Work/life balance… what’s that?

The list could go on and it doesn’t matter if you’re in employment or running your own business, the fear of saying no when you’re not used to it can be really hard.

You don’t want to feel like you’re letting someone down but the truth is, unless you communicate and set and manage expectations, you’re putting additional pressure on yourself.

When you learn to say “no”, it feels empowering.

Honestly, it really can but it takes time and confidence to really master the art of saying no.

Setting Boundaries

If you’re new to this and you’re already panicking at the idea of saying no to someone the next time they ask you something, take a deep breath!

Start to think of some situations when you have really wanted to say no to someone, think back to how were you feeling at that moment in time and write it down.

This is key because it’s a real-life example and you can start to explore ways of what you could say the next time someone asked you something you didn’t really want to say yes to.

Example A – the urgent client work

A client has asked you to do something urgently, they knew about the piece of work and the looming deadline but for whatever reason the work hasn’t started. They ask you if you can do it and they will pay extra due to the urgency.

Your immediate response is to want to say yes because you don’t want to disappoint and feel like you’re letting them down, the extra money would come in handy and you know it *shouldn’t* take too long.

The problem is you’d already promised to do something else and if you say yes, you’ll be working until 1:00am and more than likely (because you can tell from the conversation and previous experience, you’ll have to do some more work on it in the morning because it will take longer than suggested).

Your heart is saying yes but your head is saying no.

What to do. Explain to your client you already have another deadline you are working on. If you know of someone in a similar field to you, whose work you trust, offer to introduce them and let your client know that you value their business but if you do their work, the other project won’t be delivered on time.

Yes, you might receive some pushback but be clear and confident with your explanation. Be empathetic to their situation but don’t apologise for your lack of availability. Your client should respect your decision.

Example B – the interrupter

At work, a co-worker has asked you to quickly do something for them but you’re in the middle of something.

Ask them how urgent the work is and explain you’re in the middle of something but if you can look at it in 30-minutes or an hour, you would be happy to help.

The key here is about managing expectations.

Chances are, the quick job isn’t urgent and can wait until you have finished.

It might not seem like a big deal but constant interruptions can lead to you taking considerably longer to complete something, errors being made and you needing to start something else.

Example C – the new client

You know you’re terrible for responding to text messages, calls and emails at all times of the day and night.

Before you start working with someone new, be clear about your working hours. For example, you don’t work past 4:00pm, so if you receive a message or a call after that time, you won’t respond until the following day.

Don’t apologise for not working in the evenings, this is your business and it is on your terms.

If there are one-off occasions when you are happy to work in the evenings, be clear that it isn’t the norm, again, this comes back to managing and setting expectations.


At the start, changing your mindset to start feeling comfortable to say no is really hard, remember, I have been in your shoes!

Go back to those examples you wrote down and start to think about how you could handle them differently next time.

I know not everyone is a fan of role play but talk about it with a family member or a friend, practise what you would say next time.

The more you start saying no, the easier it gets, the more confident you feel and you will value yourself.

It’s all about RESPECT!

If any of this resonates with you and you need help with it, book an Energiser Call with me. We can talk through your examples and discuss ideas on how you could handle the situation differently next time. Or maybe you’re feeling trapped right now and you know you need to change your approach, let’s have a chat and change things around so you feel in control!

About Louisa van Vessem

Ingenious Corner - Louisa van Vessem in Black and White smiling

Hey there! I’m Louisa, and I’m all about teaming up with freelancers, business owners, entrepreneurs, and contractors to help ignite your journey to success.

Think of me as your go-to creative companion, business confidante, and your personal sounding board and cheerleader, all rolled into one. My goal? To serve up a mix of awesome ideas, strategic wisdom, crystal-clear guidance, and a dash of accountability and camaraderie. We’re not just about the destination. We’re all about enjoying the ride and keeping things refreshingly simple and fun.

If you’re on the lookout for a friendly guide to help navigate your business adventures, I’m all ears! Let’s grab a virtual cuppa and chat about the exciting possibilities ahead. Can’t wait to connect!

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