How To Say “No”

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In my “Four Tendencies” personality framework, each of the Four Tendencies—Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, Rebel—has its strengths and its weaknesses.

And the strengths are the weaknesses, and the weaknesses are the strengths—just depending on the context.

(Want to learn your Tendency? Take the short quiz here.)

Many people, especially Obligers, have a hard time saying “no” to other people. If someone presents an Obliger with an expectation, by definition, an Obliger feels the weight of that request—because the definition of an Obliger is “Meets outer expectations, resists inner expectations.”

Obligers often make observations about themselves such as:

  • “I struggle to set boundaries”
  • “I always go the extra mile, and people take advantage of that”
  • “I keep my promises to other people, but I have trouble keeping my promises to myself”
  • “I’m not good at self-care”

This pattern can lead to burnout, feelings of resentment, or even “Obliger-rebellion.” Saying “no” to someone else’s expectation is an important skill to help you achieve your aims and focus on what’s important to you.

But it’s usually not as simple as “just saying no,” especially when someone else’s request or demand weighs heavily on you.

If you face this challenge, you might…

Say “yes” with conditions:

“Can I start this project next week when I can give it more attention?”

“I’m going to finish writing these emails first, then I’ll draft that caption for you if I have time.”

“If you’d like me to do this report, what else can come off my to-do list?”

“Can you finish putting the groceries away for me while I make you that snack?”

“I can play with you for 20 minutes, and then I have to get back to work until lunchtime.”


“I’m not the best person for this task right now.”

“This person also knows how to do this and may have more bandwidth.”

“Why don’t you try it on your own first and I’ll check in with you when you’re done?” 

Say “no” so you can say “yes” to someone else:

“I can’t stay late tonight, I have dinner plans with a friend.”

“If I take on this project, I’m going to risk missing an important deadline.”

“I can’t come out tonight, I promised myself an evening at home to rest.”

“I’m taking a week off to spend time with my family.”

Consider your duty as a role model, or to your future-self:

“If I get burnt out, I won’t be helpful to anyone.”

“If I stay late, my teammates might feel like they have to stay late too.”

“I want my kids to see what healthy boundaries look like.”

“If I get a good night’s sleep, I’ll be more productive tomorrow.”

Upholders, Questioners, and Rebels are often unhelpful when Obligers say they feel overwhelmed by the weight of expectations. Those Tendencies say things like, “If you don’t want to do it, well, don’t do it,” “If you get clear on what’s important to you, then you’ll do it,” “Set a rule for yourself and stick to it,” or “Just it ignore what they say.” That advice doesn’t work well for Obligers.

For an approach to resonate with someone, it has to reflect the perspective of their Tendency. Using an Obliger-specific approach makes it far easier for Obligers to say “no” when they want to.



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