October 13


Learn how to say No! (& avoid the common pitfalls that lead you to say Yes!)

By Zoe Clements

October 13, 2020

Meet Paddy...

Paddy is an 18 month old cavapoo / Ewok.

His hobbies include:

  • Rolling in mud (the muddier the better)
  • Swimming in streams, fish ponds & puddles (the smellier the better)
  • Sleeping on shoes, slippers and socks (the stinkier the.....you get the gist!)

His dislikes include:

  • Cats, especially the neighbours (awkward) 
  • All squirrels (Every. Single. One.)
  • Being stroked by strangers 

All pretty standard behaviour for a pooch except for the stranger danger. 

You see Paddy has never liked being stroked by strangers and for love, nor money (training / behaviourist etc) he refuses to change! His philosophy is, if you wanna stroke me then you gotta earn my trust first otherwise I will bark in your face. Unfortunately, as he is a non-verbal people stroking magnet, I've needed to get really good at saying "No" on his behalf. 

Okay, so, I don't say it as blunt as that! I politely respond to the request by saying "No, I'm really sorry but he scared of strangers and he will bark at you". Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it and yet sometimes it's been quite a challenge.

Firstly there are the people who don't even ask to stroke him. A bit like the boss who emails you an assignment at 4:45pm and expects it done by 9am the next day. I turn my back for a few seconds and a hand comes out of nowhere and I have to say "No" mid lunge! 

Then there are the people a bit like your Great Auntie Joan who offers you a bit of her infamous Fruit Tart and, even though you say "No", gives you a massive slice anyway. 

Yes she is part of the 'I Know Better Than You' brigade who ignore my "No" and try and stroke him anyway! These are similar to the 'I Won't Take No For An Answer' crew, who want to debate my "No". "But I have dogs, let me give him a treat and let's see". So I then have to say "No", all over again!

Lastly there are the people who accept they can't stroke him but then look at me like I'm really mean (kids are particularly good at this). If that doesn't kick me into a guilt fest then we have the people who decide I need a lecture and a good dose of judgement..."You should have done this, you should do that"! 


If saying "No" to such a simple request can be challenging then it's no wonder it gets super difficult when the request is more complex. 

So what's the solution Zoe?

Well I'm glad you've asked. 

After working with saying "No" for many years I created The Needs Method© - a 5 Step process to saying "No"

Why call it 'The NEEDS Method'?

Well when someone makes a request, either spoken or assumed, we make a decision to say "Yes" or "No" based on how the request will impact our NEEDS.

Let's walk through each step...

The first step to saying "Yes" or "No" to a request is to identify which NEEDS will be impacted by the request.

Us humans have LOADS of needs. From our basic needs like needing to be safe and physical needs like sleep, food, water etc to our spiritual, cultural, financial and emotional needs. 

A common pitfall which leads people to say "Yes" when they need to say "No" is they don't know what their needs are. 

Here is a handy list to remind you of your NEEDS.




Feel safe

Physical Health

Sleep; Eat; Drink water; Breath; Move; Rest

Mental Health

Understand; Certainty; Calm; Rational 

Emotional Health

Express feelings; Feel heard & understood; Dignity


Follow Spiritual practices


Follow cultural practices


Provide resources for other needs


To grow / progress


To be valued by self and others


To abide by the Law 


Love; Belonging; Support

So let's use the request to stroke Paddy as an example. The NEEDS impacted are:

Safety Needs: As we learnt in part 1 of my 'Taming Negative Thoughts' Blog series our brain automatically scans for danger so we are always assessing our safety needs. So in this situation my brain thinks.....does this request:

  1. Put Paddy's safety at risk? Answer: Yes as he sees strangers as danger
  2. Put my safety at risk? If I say "Yes" or "No" will either option put me in danger? Answer: I believe not.
  3. Put the requesters safety as risk? Would Paddy barking in his face put this older gentleman at risk? Answer: Maybe, it could be an unpleasant shock for him.

Emotional Needs: Another common pitfall which stops people saying "No" is underestimating their emotional needs. Thousands of years ago humans needed to be part of a tribe in order to survive so we needed to be liked. While this is now not a safety need as such, it is indeed very common emotional need as we don't like to feel shame or guilt. If I say "No" to this request l risk getting the disappointed face or a rejecting or judgmental response.

Societal Needs: Society deems I abide by the law which means I am responsible for Paddy's behaviour therefore I have to ensure he is not putting anyone at risk.

Requesters Needs: I also need to think about the other persons needs.

This is especially important if the requester is your Husband, Wife, Partner, Daughter, Great Auntie Joan because saying "No" may have an impact on the relationship and therefore also on our need for connection.

So in this situation it's pretty easy. He is a stranger and I can assume he wants to stroke Paddy for connection, he needs to be safe while he does it and he needs to be treated with respect throughout our interaction.

The next step is about evaluating the impact because once we know our priorities we can work out if the decision is going to be a "Yes or a "No".

Here are three most common pitfalls that people fall into leading them to say "Yes" when they really need to say "No":

1) People place more value on other peoples needs than their own. Please forgive the shouting here but I feel really strongly about this...

Your need to feel safe, your need to go home at 5pm and connect with your other half, your need to sleep or self care, your need to look after your physical and emotional & mental health REALLY MATTER. 

2) People buy into the myth of Selfishness V Selflessness. 

  • Selfless - Putting other peoples needs first all the time is NOT noble. You can do it for a short while but it ultimately means looking after your self LESS and eventually you won't be in a fit state to help anyone else anyway!
  • Selfish - Putting your needs first does not mean you are doing something wrong or that you are a bad person. Humans need to fulfil their needs, it's not optional, if you neglect your needs your health will deteriorate

3) As I said earlier people underestimate their emotional needs. They may prioritise their need to be liked or to please over other needs. If saying "Yes" is going to affect your safety, get you into debt, affect your physical or emotional or mental health then disappointing someone in that moment is far more appropriate than pleasing them. Trust me, I know how hard it is, I liked to be liked too but the cost of doing this is too high!!

If we go back to the request to stroke Paddy I could weigh up my decision in a few different ways.

Evaluation: If I fall into the common pitfalls then I will prioritise like this:

  • If I don't value my needs, or the Pooches, then I put this strangers needs first and say "Yes".
  • If I think I'm being selfish then I say "Yes"
  • If I want to please this man and avoid his disappointment/judgement then I say "Yes".

Evaluation: If I stay out of the pitfalls then I will prioritise like this:

  • Safety of my dog and the man is the top priority here. My need to follow the law here is my second priority. My need to be liked, and his need for a moments connection, is much lower so my decision is to say "No".

There is an art to saying "No". How we express our response depends on who is making the request and how are they asking for it. Here are some guidelines:

Request: Polite from a stranger

  • I will wrap my response up in polite language

Request: Impolite/rude from a stranger

  • I will respond as above because I am a 5ft female and my need to remain safe is paramount

Request: Aggressive from anyone

  • When it's an aggressive request it will be firm "No" and I will leave the situation as fast as I can

Request: From someone with more power Eg: Boss asking me to do something just as I'm about to leave work

  • I will be polite, say "No" and explain clearly why I've made the decision

Request: From someone I care about: Partner; Friend; Brother; Son etc

  • I say "No" and explain why I've made the decision and acknowledge their disappointment. I may also offer an alternative solution if appropriate.

Common pitfalls in communicating:

  • The requester is not a mind reader!! Talking around a "No" or hinting at it and hoping that they will get the message won't work!
  • Saying "Maybe" when you need to say "No" is unhelpful and erodes trust

Top Tip:

Clear is KIND. Being unclear is UNKIND and may lead to an unkind response!

So you have said "No" in an appropriate way and now you have to deal with their response. As we saw with the relatively simple request to stroke Paddy there were two responses which could invoke a guilt or shame fest: 

  • The Disappointed Response: Defy the urge to feel guilty. They may look very disappointed in your decision but remember you haven't done anything wrong and you are not being mean! I am not being mean by putting everyones safety first so I defy the urge to feel guilty!
  • The Attacking & Judgemental Response: Defy the urge to feel shame. You are not a bad person for making this decision. You have the best of intentions and have really thought this through. Don't beat yourself up. I know I'm doing the best I can as a dog Mum so I defy the urge to feel shame!

Lastly S is for Stick to your NO because the 'I Know Better Than You' brigade and the 'I Won't Take "No" For An Answer' crew will challenge you!

Top Tips for how to Sticking to your "No"
  • Unless the requester gives you more information / makes concessions which will change the impact on your needs then stick to your "NO"! Even if person has had dogs all their life I'm not going to let them stroke Paddy because he will still be scared
  • Resist the urge to be wound up by this behaviour, responding aggressively won't help the situation, take a deep breath and give an assertive "No"
  • Don't let anyone force you into a "Yes". Even if Great Auntie Joan puts a big slice of Fruit Tart in front of me I'm going to thank her for the thought but I'm not going to eat it. Why? Because if I eat it I'm teaching her to ignore my "No".


So to summerise, your 5 steps to saying "No" are:

What now?

  • Get practising saying "No" and if you need some 1 to 1 support then contact me directly at: hello@zoeclements.co.uk
  • Like my social media and get alerted when my next blog "How to Say "No" - a Christmas Special" comes out in early December!

As ever, thanks for reading and remember...


Zoe Clements

About the author

Zoe Clements is an experienced BACP Accredited Counsellor and Author specialising in overthinking, anxiety, people pleasing and pesky self doubt.

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