4 Ways To Say No and Establish Your Boundaries

Do you struggle to establish your boundaries, especially towards toxic and aggressive people?

Do you struggle to establish your boundaries, especially towards toxic and aggressive people?

Are you feeling overwhelmed and drained from a plate full of other people’s agendas, rather than your own? If you find yourself being a Yes-person more often than you would like to, read on. Until recently, I was conditioned by my years living and working in Tokyo to think “the protruding nail gets hammered down” (Japanese proverb). My life was running on autopilot mode with many of my actions and decisions inspired by what society deemed to be right or good. It took the sudden passing of a loved one to wake me up and see that my life had slipped by and I had been too distracted by the shiny objects of my life or by my inability to say no to focus on the things that truly mattered.

If you’re like me, it’s not too late to take a new stand and there’s no better time to do so than now. Below we’ll explore four different ways to push back and regain power and autonomy in our lives.

As Sun Tzu aptly puts it in The Art of War,
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Before saying “no”, you need to first achieve the following.

Know yourself.

Reflect on what typically causes you to succumb to saying yes when all you want is to say no. Do you find yourself saying yes instead of no whenever an aggressive person is breathing down your neck? Is it your over-optimistic tendency leading you to overload your plate without too many commitments?

Know your enemy. What is his/her style of negotiation? Does he or she tend to use aggression or status, catch you off-guard or guilt-trip you into saying yes?
After you have reflected on the above, here are four different ways to establish your boundaries and safeguard your life and precious time.

1. Take A Rain Check

If you’re interested in the offer and already have your plate 70-80% full, take a rain check so you can space out your schedule and give yourself a breather. It’s critical not to fill your plate beyond that and to build in buffer. Always include a counter offer so the person would know you’re interested in taking up the offer when the timing is right.


  • “Thank you for the kind offer but I can’t make it tonight. Can we make it another time, say next Tuesday?”
  • “Thank you for inviting me. I would love to come but I already have prior commitment. I hope you guys will have a wonderful time. Please do invite me again.”

2. Sincere No

If the suggested offer isn’t your cup of tea or is not in your interest, feedback that honestly and sincerely, so the person would not take the rejection personally. By doing so, you save yourself the stress of having to reject the person again for invitations to similar activities.


“To be honest, I’m not really into theatre, so I’ll rather catch the Man-U versus Liverpool football match on Sat night than to go to that play. Thank you for thinking of me though. I appreciate that. If you would like to watch the football match with me, please let me know. It’ll be fun to go together!”

3. Outright No

Sometimes the most concise way is the most effective way to get your point across. This works best with aggressive personality who believes in pushing their way through to a yes. 


“No, I’m not interested in doing that.” and proceed to change the subject of conversation. If the person persists, reply in a polite firm voice that “I do not wish to discuss this further”.

4. Mirror or Deflect the Attack

Sometimes aggressive/toxic people do not realise how unreasonable their request is until you mirror it back to them. Other times, they may know that they’re taking advantage of you but they hope you would say yes because you’re unaware of their agenda or you would be too weak to say no. By reflecting back to them their suggestion, you’re making them aware of their unreasonable request while stating that you would speak up against it instead of tolerating it. Another way of deflecting the attack is to throw back a question or push back with humour.


  • “So you’re telling me that you would like me to (do…)?”
  • “Do you think it’s more important or helpful to spend time now investigating the culprit of the problem rather than doing damage control and solving the problem?”
  • “Ah I wonder who else can help you with this!”

Always strive to be polite but firm.

With non-aggressive/toxic personalities whom you’ll like to maintain a good relationship with, always show appreciation, be honest and counter-offer. In this way, you’re communicating that the rejection is not personal and you value the relationship. With aggressive personalities, match their aggression and energy with a firm stand and speak up when needed to convey that you won’t them use brute force to encroach into your space.

In which areas of your life do you often struggle to push back? What other ways of establishing your boundaries do you use? Share with us in the comments below.

Sylvia Huang

Social media coach, helping new and small biz owners to grow their brand and tribe online .

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