If you are looking to strengthen connections to those around you, you might think that learning how to "say no" to people is the last thing you want to do.
However, part of creating and maintaining meaningful relationships is setting expectations and being respectful of peoples' time.
I have a very hard time saying no. People ask favors of me that I don't have energy for, and I say yes. People invite me to events I don't have time for, and I say yes. People suggest activities I don't find interesting, and I commit.
Part of my social anxiety makes me hate seeing people disappointed, and love to think I can make everyone happy.
However, I can never make everyone happy. And even worse, my "yes" mentality leads me into a lot of trouble. Why? Because I can never follow through with the things I commit to. Instead of actually ending up attending the event I don't have time for, I end up having to cancel at the last minute. Or, I sacrifice another commitment in order to make time for the new one. Either way, someone loses out, someone gets angry, and I get stressed. This is why I am such a proponent of learning to say no.
I know first hand what a bad effect always saying yes can have on your relationships. People learn not to trust your word, and you get resentful of people who ask things of you that you can't deliver on. Over time, miscommunications and misunderstandings build up, and your relationships suffer.
Don't assume that saying no is mean.
Saying that I can't help someone with a favor, but sincerely expressing that I wish I could, is very rarely met with bad feelings on the other end. On the other hand, what is met with bad feelings is when you agree to the favor, and then show up late or fail to deliver on your commitment. This brings me to number 2.
Saying yes and then backing out is way worse than saying no in the first place.
I have witnessed over and over again how frustrated my friends, family, and coworkers get with me when I offer or commit to do something I know I can't do, only to feel resentful about it later, or having to back out, doing a poor job on it because I don't have time.
Saying a meaningless yes in order to make someone feel better is a lot worse than saying an honest no. This is true every time. So just be honest and open about your schedule, abilities, and desires, and be up front about what you can and cannot do, every time.
You have every right to say no.
Our time is the most precious thing that we have, and we cannot just sacrifice it away simply because someone is demanding it. If you want to be successful and happy, you need to take control of your time and energy and how it is spent. And this will inevitably lead to saying no sometimes.
Not only that, but the ability to say no to people, especially if it's someone we feel pressure from like a boss or spouse, is part of the very healthy social practice of setting boundaries. And without social boundaries, we become out of control and insecure.
Of course, this is not to say that you should never accept doing something you don't want to do. It is simply saying that you should not accept doing things that you cannot do while maintaining a healthy life.
So how do we say no gracefully?
You don't always need to explain yourself
Often saying no is difficult because it can be hard to explain why we need to say no. The reality is, sometimes an explanation simply isn't necessary.
Simply saying, "I'm so sorry, I can't make it that day" will usually go over just fine. You don't need to add the details of why.
But you do need to be considerate
Saying no should always come with some consideration, because you are rejecting a proposition that someone is offering you, which usually takes a level of vulnerability on their part.
You don't want to damage the relationship by making them feel embarrassed or rejected by you. So make sure that you thank them for the offer, or that you express a sincere apology if you are saying no to a favor.
Offer up an alternative
Good practice when saying no is to offer up some sort of alternative that you can commit to. If you can't help someone with their big move, offer to have them for dinner after they are all moved in to give them a night off.
This isn't always possible, and can sometimes just turn into another way of being forced into saying yes, but when you can make it work, it's a nice gesture.