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 .

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

24 Comment threads
3 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
27 Comment authors
Nicholas J CobosAthurJo DavisRubina fazalJudi Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Nicholas J Cobos

Hello Sylvia, this is great information, thank you!


Thank you for the great article. This is a must read article on strategic ways to establish boundaries against toxic or aggressive persons. I ve used various strategies but I find the “rain check” method and “sincerely no” works for me.

Jo Davis

This is a great reminder! Thank you for this article! Sometimes saying “no” to someone is really saying “yes” to ourselves.

Robina fazal

Hi..Sweet!Sylvia dear…wonderful article.. Thanks for Sharing.. and thanks to Sir Bryant McGill.and Mam Jenni..for creating Space for us to comment in their selected articles.written by them…and by others..Nice writers…it’s a privilege to be with you all..❤👑💐yeah we if want to lead a life of purpose.. and health.. we need peace of mind and for this we have to be selective enough while relations in good terms..with others..that can make us grow and grow…and let us gain our energies to live a life of honour and purpose.. there are times where you have to face toxic people..relations.. and you have to make boundaries to protect your integrity..calmness..mind..and so on life to go on Smoothly..Those people can we you linked in day to day routines..neighbours…even dearest family which some always try to suck your happiness…make you suffer for no solid reason..burdensome you..irritate you..cause problems for you..even how much you care respect them..There nature becomes to take advantages of your sensitive nature..they want to get their profits..there needs..their purposes.. they although show love and respect to you..but inner side.. they are insecure..depressed…lacked inner peace…They when saw you in Good place ..and honour they become jealous and wanna utilize your life to gain their purposes and wanna full fill their demands..we have to let go such people..we always have to set our boundaries.. deal them with patience.. but not let them takeaway your own identity..your own self reality..your own self.. worth ..and then there are conditions that pursue you to be in any kind of relationships..that can attack your worth..respect…and good deeds..say No to such relationship.. even how much attractive they seem to be you are alone.. you have to be selective in any relationship that can purely make you happy …and ease your Soul…not just for time passing.. so have your limitations . Let yourself busy in creative positive life..patience.. trust in God Always..take care of your self maintenance..self respect…avoid toxic and people with bad intentions.. say no with no fear Trust on your own guts and capabilities.. let yourself a real authentic self love yourself.. care your self.. it’s life…❤💐⚘⚘⚘⚘

Kim Bellanca

Dear Sylvia: I set boundaries for my self, but I do this(on a as needed basis)depends on who I’m with-family/friends/coworker & the circumstances of the individual I’m with(I treat others the same way I’d like to be treated and being open & honest in our conversations(w/o being rude & disrespectful-we are human & we have feelings)!

Lalie Nieto
Lalie Nieto

Hello Bryant and Jenni💕 This is such an interesting article. Long time ago., I used to have difficulty saying no and establishing my boundaries with certain people leaving me with unpleasant bottled up emotions. Until recently, I started applying these rules and I felt a lot better and at peace. I remember a situation wherein I got fed up with a co-worker and applied the rule on #3 and I felt so relieved after that. Since then she became more careful when asking for certain requests from me. Basically, I’m a very patient person but when my limit has been reached, I just explode which is bad. That’s why it is important to be aware of these tips in order to handle tough and moderate situations in an effective manner. But what if I’m dealing with lots of people? I don’t know how to handle this🤔 ignoring will cause so much inner turmoil 🤔🤔🤔🤔

Judy Conley

I love all the suggestions. I lived with a very controlling, critical man for 45 yrs. I gave up the fighting over his treatment because nothing I said got through. I gave into what I thought was some piece in my life by mostly ignoring his rants. I did not have a clue that I was losing me in the process. After one too many affairs by him, I insisted he must leave. The first night alone, I felt this weight being lifted from my body. I had carried it so long, I couldn’t feel it anymore. Being on my own was scary and I struggle financially, still. He has hid for this past year, taking 2/3 of income with him, emptying our savings and checking account on his way out of town and driving off in our only vehicle. Hard to divorce someone you can’t find. I am at piece with my decision. Don’t let anyone steal your identity from you. It is so much work to find yourself again. No is a complete sentence, no need to explain your decision to those who pressure you to say yes. I’m getting stronger and no longer second guess my every decision. I can do this. No regrets except for staying so long in a toxic relationship. I have forgiven myself for it. I did the best I could with the tools I had. I’m reading and learning everyday.


Wow! Thank you so much for sharing your story. It really hit home. I think you and I have alot in common. Good luck in your transformance. Just remember you are a beautiful butterfly….

Jackie Wilushewski

I am more like a nice paved pathway when it comes to this (though I used to be more like a roller coaster). I love that you suggested to ‘Know yourself” before you say no. What you described is really helpful and I appreciate all of your example and tips on being able to feel comfortable and be ok with setting a boundary and/or saying no. The best thing about this article that really stuck with me and I will use moving forward is when you said to “know your enemy” – to know your the style of your enemy.

Thank you deeply @sylviahuang!


Tina ngo
Tina ngo

Thanks to ALL the articles and sharing stories. I’ve learned a lot from these tools/ suggestions. SHARING IS CARING & LOVING. I appreciated it ALL. THANKS everyone. LOL= LOTS OF LOVE,

Anne Velevski
Anne Velevski

I have been applying a firm foot on this to people that are or were close to me & regardless of how their behaviour was or is you can’t change them but you can set an example & also slowly introduce other little things to enforce & praise them, say to them “See when you do so & so from a different point what output you get? Totally different from what it was before.” Perception
Discipline & morals can be enforced on a daily basis by bringing it up, sometimes we have to be a reminder to selfish & or individual behaviour.
The difficulty in adhering to such should be a habit for it to become much more effective & produce results.
Not only that but it should also teach them how to tolerate it for themselves & if they still don’t adhere then you have reason to not deal with them at all I know it can be harsh but all those little extra doings are no longer for them.
At some point in your life you reach a point that you just had enough & the best thing is letting go cause it feels like one less problem to deal with & you will find that having time apart from this particular person is the next thing to do, you are just out of puff the magic dragon, it’s not working. Not giving up now though like fully not even live with them but still maintain contact even although it will be somewhat difficult. I went through exactly just this with my now teenage daughter & I never consulted a third party other than myself she did but also in the process her dad was not co-operating simply because he just didn’t understand the complexity of how teenagers go through different phases so it was like a tennis match & mind you I refused bluntly to have any communication with him, I didn’t want no double whammy here.
I had to focus all my energy on her day in day out every step of the way which was very exhausting but one thing I must say it boosted my will power, strength & the end result was timely but good. The definition of a mum here was criticised by her siblings, been too giving so it was like a tug of war somehow I managed to pull through & to top it off my anxiety was really turning on me.
I took up swimming more often, that was my relaxation, my release & also a great healer for back pain. & the anxiety. I was doing twenty laps a day, in the evening proved to be more effective for me everyone is different I suppose. I think I have told more than enough but I believe it’s all for a good cause.