How to say ‘no’ to close friends and family

Saying ‘no’ is not rude but a healthy way to set necessary boundaries

I recently came across an article titled, ‘Teach your children how to say no’, and was struck by it. As kids, we were always taught to be polite, especially, to elders and people with authority. At school, we even sang a song that went... “‘Please’, ‘sorry’, ‘thank you’ are words we would like to hear.”

As an adult, this politeness has stuck. It’s reached a point where when I bump into a door, my instinctive reaction is not “ouch” but “I’m so sorry”. I’m sure many would identify. We’ve all been raised to be polite and obliging. But this comes with some downsides. Most of the time, we find ourselves unable to say ‘no’ to friends and family. We feel it makes us selfish, insensitive, and unreliable.

But that’s not entirely true. Sometimes, you are doing everyone — especially yourself — a huge favour by saying ‘no’. It’s the opposite of being selfish when you decline to do something you are genuinely incapable of doing.

Ask yourself: How many times have I been there for them? If the answer is ‘almost always’, you are okay. But also understand that saying ‘no’ is just a way for you to set healthy boundaries. We’re all human and have limited bandwidth. It’s important to set limits to help ourselves.

So, how do you say ‘no’ without feeling like you’ve let people down?


You aren’t being rude when you say ‘no’ to someone. All you need to do is be more conscious of how to frame your answer. A blunt “no, I can’t,” will rub people the wrong way. However, if you say: “That sounds great but I already have plans I cannot cancel”, people are less likely to feel offended.

If they still take offence, remember one thing, you are not responsible for how people react to things. You are only responsible for what you say. If you have said ‘no’ with sensitivity, you can walk away with a clear conscience.


Thank them for thinking of you before you say ‘no’. Express that though you may not be able to show up (for whatever reason), you are grateful that the person you are talking to thought of including you in their activities.


You can’t make it on Tuesday? Suggest showing up Friday. Perhaps, you can’t make it for a party on Saturday, but you could suggest helping them prepare for it. This way, people don’t think you are deliberately avoiding them.

When you find yourself fumbling to say ‘no’, remind yourself that you need to be there for yourself first. Saying ‘no’ is not selfish, it is an essential part of self-care.


Start with “I’m sorry, I can’t be there, I’d have loved to but...” When you start with a sorry, you are being polite yet assertive because you are letting your position be clear. There’s no room for misunderstanding.
If you’re a beginner, i.e., you’ve never said ‘no’ before to anyone, start with saying: “Let me think about it, I have some other commitments on that day”. Take your time, and then say ‘no’. This gives you time to get over the anxiety of declining someone’s request, which comes in quite handy.

UNPLUG, and hug each other

Festive season is the perfect time to go for that digital de-cluttering that you’ve been thinking about or aiming for

This festive season, go for digital fasting. Just as we are trying hard to balance the inevitable heavy meals with detox days/weeks to make our bodies function better; experts around the world are encouraging people to switch off their phones and unplug all electronic devices — for at least a day in a week — to recover from the extreme pressure our minds are grappling with on a daily basis.

Says Pamela Puja Kirpalani, author of The Journey is Yours – Take Charge of It, “Our brains are not meant to deal 7-9 bits of information at any one point in time. But with constant digital buzz, we are forced to multi-task. We are all getting overwhelmed.”


In our age of digital enslavement, everything craves for our attention. We spend all day staring at screens, read books on Kindles or iPads, and relax at home watching a movie or a series on a streaming platform or TV. At work, we spend 7-plus hours a day on the computer, use apps and websites and switch between them more than 300 times! We have all become digital zombies.

Have you noticed how people panic if they can’t find their phones for even 5 seconds? We are fidgety creatures, and cannot function without tapping our fingers on gadgets around us – all the time. Before Kirpalani started practising a healthy detachment from her phone, the itch to check it was all too often. “If my phone was not trailing my body like a tail, I’d feel as if something was fundamentally missing. It made me feel very uncomfortable,” she says.

Social media and digital communication have become digital versions of fast food. They are too easy to consume, yet don’t give us what we need to live a healthy, happy life. For Vanika Choudhary, owner of a bistro in Mumbai, the only way to keep her sanity is to switch off completely every now and then. “It’s tough to log off as an entrepreneur but I make it a point to do so to regain my sanity and increase my productivity.” That’s another pitfall of the Tech Age. Constantly looking at screens has made our brains sluggish. Without de-cluttering our digital lives, we cannot function better – at work and home.

Life coach and author Cal Newport’s book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, talks about the perils of being connected 24x7, though he’s hopeful of a better future. That’s because even with technology overwhelming us we can spot a few sane ones among us who have bucked the trend, says Newport. These ‘digital minimalists’ are around us – small in numbers but enough to be visible.


So, who are these digital minimalists? To put it simply, these are people who can hold long conversations without taking furtive glances at their smartphones. They would seem calmer than the rest around them, and smile more often. Whether they are reading a book, cooking, or simply walking on the road… just looking at them could reduce your anxiety levels by quite a few notches.
Professor Antarpreet Singh from Indian School of Business, says in a “man-machine era” — where humans and technology don’t just co-exist but have become inherently co-dependent — unplugging is the biggest challenge and need of the hour.


The average American user turns his/her phone on 46 times per day. But it’s only a few moments when s/he is doing something useful After a mere 2.8-second interruption (the time it might take to read a text message), we make twice as many errors on a complex task; after 4.4 seconds (the time it might take to write a text), our errors triple!
 From book The Future of Happiness: 5 Modern Strategies for Balancing Productivity and Well-Being in the Digital Era by Amy Blankson

DIGITAL DETOX He says, “For a harmonious co-existence, people need to remember that they are the masters — not slaves — of technology. Human intelligence should drive artificial intelligence, not be other way round.” To do that we have to train ourselves to avoid looking at our phones again and again, much like avoiding the temptation to eat junk food every now and then. Singh suggests, “Cut down your tendency to forward stuff by at least 80 per cent, whether on WhatsApp, FB, Twitter or Insta; see how much difference it makes.”

Social entrepreneur Divya Jain switches off at least once a week, and understands how difficult it is to make living the unplugged life a habit in today’s world. “Limit idle surfing and remember that the best way is to start small.” Being a digital minimalist is all about accepting the idea that new communication technologies have the potential to massively improve our lives. But we must also recognise that realising this potential in a way that doesn’t enslave us to technology is hard work.


To reclaim leisure, a simple tech detox or a small break may not be enough. What we need is to reset our relationship with technology. Businesswoman Jyotsna Uttamchandani says, “For me, digital minimalism is about finding the intention now and defining your own purpose in this digital life.”

Public policy professional, adviser, author Dr Arunabha Ghosh, agrees, “I log off for about five hours a day, every day. Digital balance is the only way to retain our sanity because there’s no going back. Our world will only get more interconnected, and it’s up to us how we balance it.”


Decide which gadget you can eliminate
Engage with social media in ways that promote your well-being
Create a cost benefit analysis for your tech use. Ask yourself if you are sacrificing important things in your life just because you like fiddling with your phone, or feel incomplete without it
Always ask yourself ‘why’ when you pull out your phone
Just like you fast for a body detox, go on a digital fast every week or 10 days

Are you bad at keeping in touch with your friends?

There’s a special place in heaven for all low-maintenance friends – the ones who don’t put any pressure on you to call them up every day or meet them every single weekend, or even tag them in memes, since even that is an indicator of how much you think of them, and how much they mean to you, nowadays.

When you’re in school and college, you have all the time in the world to show your friends just how much you love them. However, thrown into the monotonous vortex of adulthood, things begin to change. The unfortunate truth? Well, so do some of our bonds.


Okay, most of them, actually. As someone who has experienced this shift first hand, I can say that very few people understand that friendship has very little to do with proximity — even frequency of communication — and is more about silent bonds and unshakable reliability in crucial moments.


The more organic and effortless a friendship, the better. But all great things need to be nurtured for sustenance. Going completely off the radar and miss important moments in your friend’s lives shouldn’t be confused with respecting space.

Bangalore-based employee assistance consultant R Alford explains: “If you totally disappear on people who care about you, and only surface when you feel like, the friendship will suffer. If you can’t show up, make sure you at least take the time out to explain why. Think about whether or not you’d be okay if your buddy did the same thing to you. Keep it easy, simple and transparent.”


However, there are some people who keep constantly reminding you of your ‘failure’ as a friend because you don’t meet often. Don’t overlook such behaviour either. No one has the right to send you on a guilt trip. Stop justifying yourself and take a break from those relationships.
As they say: Those who mind shouldn’t matter, and those who matter, won’t mind.

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