A Guide to NO by BISH

A Guide to ‘No’

This guide to no is to help us understand how to say it but also how to understand a ‘no’ and what we can do better.

Sadly, sometimes we are put us in a position where we might have to say ‘no’. So I think it can be useful to learn how to do this, but the most important thing is that we shouldn’t have to say no. If we are being asked to do something consensually then we would be choosing to do different things based on what we may or may not want to do. If we are having to say no, it’s because we haven’t been given enough choices.

Learn how to ask really well and avoid people having to say no.

Our bodies say no too

We don’t just say no with words we say it with our actions. Research shows that people don’t often use the word ‘no’ when they are being asked whether they want to do something. Think about the times when you didn’t want to do something and instead you said ‘ummmmm’ or ‘I dunnno’ or went quiet and shrugged your shoulders. They were all ‘nos’, and hopefully the other person would have understood that. In fact, the same research found that people usually understand that different gestures or phrases mean no, even if someone didn’t say no out loud.

actions mean no too [don't ask] [shakes head] [shrug] [hmmmm] [meh] [wtf?] [sad face] [nope] [stop] [not for me]

Sometimes it’s hard for people to say no, but that doesn’t mean that they are being coy. Sometimes people haven’t had a great experience of saying no or might fear being rejected if they do.

Learn about power in relationships and why that’s important.

If you’re wanting some advice on how to say no try some of the following:

Field what they say and throw it back

You can try repeating what they say and say it back to them. ‘I know you want to go out with me but I don’t want to. So no.’ This is a bit like fielding what they are saying and throwing it back to them. It shows that you have heard them and you are telling them what you want. If it feels safe you could throw in a bit of humour if you wanted to.

field what they say and throw it back
but you said you fancied me
yes I do fancy you but I just don't want to be in that kind of relationship 

Use humour

Sometimes saying something funny can defuse a difficult situation and gives everyone the option of backing out. If you google ‘funny ways to say no’ there are loads of different responses (it shows what a problem this is, which is depressing). I would go with ‘it’s a no from me’ and be all Simon Callow about it. Or ‘let me just consult with my legal team, yeah they say no, sorry about that.’

Turn the tables

If they are trying to make you feel guilty about saying no you might want to turn the tables on them. So if they say ‘if you were my friend…,’ or ‘if you loved me you’d …’ then you turn that around and say it right back at them.

Turn the tables
But we love each other
So we should try to find ways to do things that work for us both. Love is something we do, not just say

If they were your friend or if they loved you then they would treat you more consensually. Remember that love isn’t something you say, it’s something you do. Doing consent is a way of being loving to people. Making someone do something they don’t want isn’t.

There’s some more really great advice in my guide to relationships.

Have a saying ready

Try having a saying ready too. I have a t shirt which has ‘SORRY NOT SORRY’ in big letters, I like that expression. You could say ‘it’s a no, sorry not sorry about that.’ Just have a phrase that you keep repeating over and over again so it becomes as easy as saying ‘ummmm’ or ‘I dunno.’ What’s your favourite ‘saying no’ phrase?

Check out my book about consent! Can We Talk About Consent? is available worldwide and in several different languages.

We should only have to say no once

Ideally you shouldn’t have to say no at all. When you do you should only have to say it once.

You should only have to say no once

Increase your chances of your ‘no’ being heard by saying it clearly. You could perhaps put your hand out in front of you at the same time and say ‘no’. If they keep asking keep saying no each time they ask. Think about asking for help if they are not listening to you or getting into a more public space where people can see you. If they are doing it via their phone, you could say no and mute them, or block them. If they are being persistent to the point of harassing you, you could perhaps get a trusted adult to help you. They could either intervene on your behalf or help you to report it.

No to them, but yes to you

Remember that when you say no to someone else, you’re also saying yes to you. Sometimes it’s good to give to other people but often we forget to give to ourselves. This is important. Ultimately if we can’t give ourselves the things we need then we’re always going to go around making other people happy in the hope this will make us happy too. Saying no to them but yes to you can be tough – we’re not taught to do this very well. So give yourself pat on the back if you manage it, and don’t be tough on yourself if you don’t.

Focus and get tough

Lastly, sometimes you might have to get really assertive with someone if they are being very unreasonable with you with a four point action plan.

  1. Point out their rubbish behaviour (them not listening to your no)
  2. Say how it’s making you feel (scared, angry, sad, disappointed etc)
  3. Tell them what you want them to do (listen, stop asking, go away)
  4. And what will happen if they don’t (defriend them, report them to someone).

All of this is really difficult and it’s one of those times when our freedom is being affected by someone else. Although we are being put in the position of having to say it, saying no can sometimes be really good for us. Remember we are saying no to them and yes to us. That can give us something too.

Comment below if you like. I moderate all comments before they appear, just so you know!

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© Justin Hancock, 2024 Find out more about me and BISH here.

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I’ve been a sex and relationships educator since 1999 (with a background in youth and community work). In that time I’ve taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. I’ve worked with many charities, local governments, schools and youth organisations facilitating training and workshops. My two books, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and If You Want To) and Can We Talk About Consent? are widely available around the world. I’ve been on the telly and the radio and have written articles for newspapers and magazines. I’m also a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Read more about me and BISH here. Find out about my other work here Justin Hancock

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3 thoughts on “A Guide to ‘No’

  1. Thank you. I was being forced to do things sexually that I didn’t want to do, and now, if it happens again, I will know what to do.

    1. I’m glad the article helped. Sorry you had that experience though. Hopefully other people will be better at treating you consensually in the future.

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