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How to Have the Confidence to Say NO

If you’ve been reading my column over the past few years, then you know that the topics I unpack are frequently sparked by conversations with friends, and colleagues, or from something I’ve read that feels like it requires further exploration. This is one of those columns!

So yesterday, I was chatting with a good friend about the best way to handle aggressive, insensitive people without alienating them. Someone she had spoken with as a favor to a mutual friend had asked her for some proprietary information and she was torn about how to handle it. There was no way she was going to share it, but at the same time, she didn’t want to be rude. And while she handled it really well, she felt uncomfortable after the call. But that’s another column for another time.


My suggestion to her had been to say, “I’m not comfortable doing that,” and while that seemed to roll off my tongue, I remembered how long it took me to get to the point where I was comfortable saying that…or simply saying “no.”

About a half hour later––no joke––an article popped up on my screen, Harvard-trained psychologist: If you use any of these 9 phrases every day, ‘you’re more emotionally secure than most’ by Dr. Cortney Warren. Turns out, #3 is “I’m not comfortable with that.” Have I become emotionally secure, I wondered?

“Emotionally secure people are empowered, confident and comfortable in their own skin. They walk the world with authenticity and conviction, and do what is meaningful to them.”

“Emotionally secure people are empowered, confident, and comfortable in their own skin. They walk the world with authenticity and conviction, and do what is meaningful to them,” says Dr. Warren, with great confidence and conviction, and adds, “I’ve found that this sense of self-assuredness makes them better able to navigate conflict and be vulnerable with others, mostly because they aren’t looking for external validation.”


As I read the other phrases, I realized that I was indeed becoming more emotionally secure and wasn’t even aware of it. I was genuinely excited that all my hard work was paying off – took long enough but hey, better late than never, I say!


Dr. Warren says, ”if you use any of these nine phrases, you’re more emotionally secure than most people”:


1. “Let me think about that before I respond.”

2. “No.”

3. “I’m not comfortable with that.”

4. “This is who I am, and I’m proud of it.”

5. “Am I like that?”

6. “I will work on that.”

7. “I’m sorry you’re struggling. How can I help?”

8. “This matters to me.”

9. “I will try!”

nancy mendelson advice hertelier

The good doctor offers up explanations and alternative phrases, so well worth the read, even if you are brimming over with confidence and self-esteem!!


As for me, I now have an earworm—can’t stop hearing Julie Andrews singing the I Have Confidence song from the Sound of Music, over and over and over…


“I have confidence in confidence alone Besides, which you see I have confidence in me!”


Must admit, it’s kind of empowering!!!


1 Comment


Nico Sheers
Nico Sheers
Jun 07, 2023

It was a big revelation for me when I realized that I could just say "no", without an excuse to try and justify it. And Ive been trying to remember to say "Let me think about it before I respond", a very helpful phrase!

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