20/01/2015 5:21 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST

5 Times It's Totally Okay To Say 'No'...And How To Do It

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The difference between a miserable date night you did not want anyway and a satisfying, alcohol-fuelled movie marathon alone is quite simply made by the word ‘no’. This is a word all parents know intimately and bosses dread. No, you cannot have ice cream. No, I’m too busy. No, I probably won’t meet this close a deadline. When you think about it, saying ‘no’ seems much simpler inside your head than it does aloud. We all live that struggle every spring when the shops put up discount boards.

But sometimes, when it comes to your close ones –- a partner who needs you every minute of the day, an aunt who wants to crash on your couch for a month and a child who is determined to eat cookies for all meals -- saying ‘no’ is a difficult but necessary decision.

"They feel so guilty about saying 'no,' they feel they need to salvage the relationship," says Dr. Vanessa Bohns, an assistant professor of management sciences at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, in an interview withThe Wall Street Journal . "One of our most fundamental needs is for social connection and a feeling that we belong," Dr. Bohns says.

Often the dilemma stems from what psychologists call the 'harshness bias' -- the apprehension that "the consequences of saying "no" are much worse in our heads than they would ever be in reality," Dr. Bohns notes.

In the workplace, people fear saying 'no' will incur penalties. For a generation that's logged in 24/7, the office life often overlaps the personal. There are emails that need to go out after-hours, and weekends are no longer strictly demarcated for quality 'me time'.

Susan Newman, Ph.D., a social psychologist and the author of The Book of No, told Forbes: "People need to change their mindset about agreeing to everything.”

“By saying no, you can focus on your goals,” Newman says.

A big part of saying 'no' is knowing how to do it. If you're prepared, you will most likely not be put on the spot by a person who is trying to get you to do something you really do not want to do. Practicing in advance is a good idea.

Here are five ways to say no to anyone:

When it comes to your relatives…


Relatives can be taxing. For countries that have a strong cultural tradition of people living amidst their extended families, relatives can be supportive and helpful, but often extremely intrusive. Unreasonable requests -- can you fly the 15 of us to your wedding abroad? -- will crop up now and then. An easy way to deal with demanding relatives is to draw boundaries kindly but firmly.

When it comes to your children…

family angry

Saying ‘no’ to your kids can be both stressful and ineffective if you only see it as an easy disciplining tool. Parenting website Parenting.com suggests that ‘no’ should be reserved for extreme situations. "A calm, explanatory approach" works best for most toddlers. It quotes Dr. David Walsh, who is the author of 'No: Why Kids -- Of All Ages -- Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It' as suggesting that parents avoid the promise of "maybe tomorrow" as a way to deal demands of immediate gratification. So, cupcakes for dinner can be a one time thing, but you'll have to find a way to dissuade your child from making it a habit.

When it comes to your boss…


Forbes reports useful tips for saying ‘no’ to the person who writes your pay cheque. It suggests the “Show, don’t tell” technique of asking your boss to help you prioritise what’s on your plate without actually telling him/her you don’t have time to take on extra work. For example, if your boss expects you to take work home during the weekends, a polite but firm approach will ensure you have personal time without upsetting your manager.

When it comes to your significant other...


Saying no to your spouse or partner can be a tricky thing. The intension is to make a point without making him or her feel rejected. "Don't apologise", suggests this report. Sometimes pre-empting and practicing makes saying 'no' a lot easier. You love your in-laws but would you want them to take over your life when they come visiting? Probably not.

When it comes to your friends...

friends fight

If your are often asked by your friends to borrow money, it's most probably because they've identified you as a person who would find it hard to turn them down. Of course you would love to help out your friends. But it's not always possible. This guide to saying 'no' on Oprah.com suggests correct ways to handle awkward requests from friends. "I'm not broke, but I can't afford to lend anything" is good enough to deal with such requests.