Communicating Effectively: About Saying “No”

Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus


When Roland asked to borrow Alvin’s car because his auto was being serviced and he had an emergency, he was somewhat stunned when Alvin said “No.” Roland mentioned that if Alvin ever needed to borrow his car, he’d gladly oblige. Alvin replied: “I made up my mind never to lend my car to anyone. “


Roland doesn’t feel that he’s just “anyone;” he thought he and Alvin were friends. Alvin may have legitimate reasons for not wanting Roland to take his car, but if he values his friendship with Roland, he needs to communicate clearly with him.

On a daily basis, many of the people who come to us for therapy reveal the negative consequences of arbitrarily saying “no.”

Can you remember a time when you wanted something, made a reasonable request ~- asked a small favor, perhaps ~ and were told “no”? “No big deal,” you say. Well, perhaps you can recall something that really was a big deal, something important to you that could easily have been granted but was withheld. Chances are that this denial left you unhappy, and not feeling very warm toward the person who denied the request.

Almost everyone has a negative reaction to arbitrary denials and refusals. When a reasonable and legitimate request is declined, when a simple favor is denied, most people feel hurt, angry, and disappointed. Depending on the importance of the event, some may become irate, outraged, or perhaps deeply depressed.

Both of us have seen people in our clinical practices who were “no-sayers,” and whose lives were in turmoil as a result. When they realized that many of their relationship problems resulted from their negative styles, they saw the value of becoming more obliging and helpful, and their lives turned around.

Needless no~saying engenders a great deal of distress between partners, parents and children, employers and employees, teachers and students, friends, and so forth. So, when you are at the dishing out end of things, we urge you to

• try to say “yes” unless there are valid reasons for doing otherwise.

We’re not saying that you should be a “yes person.” There are legitimate times to refuse assertively to accede to another’s demands. But if the other person is asking for something reasonable, and you value the relationship, try to say “yes.” You may be surprised at how that enhances and strengthens the relationship.

By all means, say “no” when the time is right. if the request is unreasonable; if granting the request will cause harm to you or others; if granting the request will inconvenience you significantly. On the other hand, if granting a request or a favor is likely to be good for a relationship, will promote affection and goodwill, and won’t hurt anybody, why not say “yes”?


Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on

Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus and Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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