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How To Stand Up For Yourself To Your Friends: Saying No 'Nicely'

The people we surround ourselves with are the ones that we have to say no to the most, yet this is where people have the hardest time setting boundaries. Due to the fear of hurting feelings, not fitting in, or the strong desire to avoid conflict- many people neglect to develop the critical skill of setting boundaries with the people they care about.

Consequentially, they mould themselves to fit the interests of others and wind up in a place far from who they are and what they want for themselves— and this is where people get taken advantage of. We must become our most loyal advocate even when it's to our best friend, spouse, or parents. This post is a template for how we can do exactly that.

Some Background on Human Psychology

First we should understand a concept about human nature best described by the idiom which dates back to 1546:

'Give someone an inch and they'll take a mile'.

Definition: If you yield even a little, you’ll be taken advantage of. Compromise a little, and you will later compromise more.

People will try to get away with as much as they're allowed to. When someone wants you to do something, they push you right up until you start to firmly resist and then they ease off. And then they will push you a little farther next time until you resist again. This process goes on until suddenly you're in a situation you have no idea how you wound up in, doing things you didn’t want to do in the first place.

The Inch By Inch process is used by people in all sorts of positions who are trained to not take no as an answer ('never give up!'), and that once you get someone to say 'yes', they're more likely to keep saying yes to your requests. It's also called 'the foot in the door' technique. This article highlights how salesmen should take advantage of the need for reciprocation, the appeal to authority, and our drive to remain consistent in our choices to get people to keep saying yes.

No, that's not from a human traffickers strategy manual, it's from the best selling authors in the field of influence, business, and psychology.

A recent personal example is when my good friend asked me to share his business on the Girls Who Fight instagram page. I said no because I don’t solicit anything on my page, I only share the content that I believe to be relevant and valuable to my audience (no matter how much I love you). You don't see Nike shouting out their friends start ups do you? It wasn’t personal, but a professional boundary. Despite saying no, he asked me again the next week, and again the week after that. I finally said, ‘look, I already told you that I’m not going to share it, why do you keep asking me?’ He said, ‘sorry, I’m a real estate agent, it’s what we do. We don't give up at no".

Influence is not a predator thing, it's a human nature thing. Even our best friends will naturally push us to do things that may not be in our best interest, and we have to develop the courage to say 'No!'.

#1. Trust Your intuition

How do you know when to 'stand up for yourself'?

Anytime you feel that something isn't right. I often speak about how we have super senses when we let our eyes and ears do their job. These senses have developed for thousands of years for the the sole purpose of survival and are highly adept at threat detection. Your instincts, or intuition, are also part of these super senses that are constantly at work to keep you safe from harm and on a safe, healthy, and vibrant path.

Instincts are your internal compass. If something inside tells you that something is not right or as soon as someone draws you in a direction that you don't want to go down, that's when you draw your line. No later. Even if you've been saying yes to something that you don't want to do, it's never to late to start saying no!

#2. Nip It In The Bud

Meaning: “to avoid escalating a problem by stopping or correcting it as soon as possible. To stop something in the early stages before it has the chance to be established."

When someone asks you to do something you don't want to do, say no the first time. Otherwise you’re going to have to say no a second time and that will be even harder. Unwanted situations often don't seem like a big deal at first so people go along to get along, but these situations are allowed to carry on unchecked they build momentum and grow into something bigger and scarier. Saying no to a friend's request can seem mean. But if you say no the first time, it saves you from having to be even more forceful with them later on.

#3. Be Firm (It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It)

The exact same phrase could be taken seriously or not taken seriously depending on how you say it. If you say no weakly, it will be taken weakly. If you say no strongly, it will often be taken strongly. When you set a boundary or stand up for yourself to a friend or bully, do so with confidence and authority.

1. Use a firm and assertive tone of voice. Remember, tell, don't ask!

2. Stand tall with your shoulders back and head up. Don't hunch or tuck your hands in your pockets.

3. Make eye contact with the person you're speaking to.

Meet Their Level of Resistance (Back Yourself Up)

Your first no might get away with being polite but firm. For instance, if someone offers you a drink you can say 'no thank you', and most of the time it will be respected. But if they persist you need to back yourself up!

Raise your level of resistance to their level of persistence.

Give no more than two verbal warnings, and then back them up with action. Think of the first verbal warning as a softball, the second as a hardball, and the final straw is walking off that baseball diamond.

Betty says "here have a beer"

You say "No thanks!"

Betty doesn't respect your no and says "don't be so lame it's just a beer! Come on just do it, have fun for once!"

Now, the hardball. You say "I said no, I don't want to drink and I won't."

If Betty gets angry and says "you're being such a loser! stop being a coward and take this shot right now!"

That's when you have to honour your word, and back it up with ACTION. You find another group of friends or leave the party. You might be a little bummed about leaving early, but you'll have an increased respect for yourself for sticking to your word and having the courage to back it up. That's worth a lot. That's how you build your backbone.

#4. Don't Give An Excuse

Excuses are for the weak, and we're not weak are we? When you give a reason for why you don't want to do something, you only give them an opportunity to argue with you.

If instead of a simple and direct 'no thanks', you tell Betty "Sorry, I can't drink because my mom said I'm not allowed", you give her the space to start making fun of you for following rules.

If you say "I'm not drinking because I didn't bring any alcohol", she'll say "no problem, you can have mine!"

If you say "I'm not drinking because I don't like the taste", she'll say "don't worry, we have this other type of alcohol that taste like juice!"

Salesmen ask people what's holding them back from saying yes, and they have scripted responses for every possible answer. They remove any reason you have for saying no, so you finally just give in. If you give an excuse, you'll get a solution.

No is a complete sentence. It needs no explanation. If they ask why, you can simply say "because I don't want to."

#5. Remove The Opportunity (Or The Friend)

Our final step is to remove the opportunity or the friend.

Let's say that Betty is your best friend, you love her and she's normally a positive influence. But at the next party, the same thing happens. Every time she drinks, she becomes pushy and disrespects your boundaries and gets you caught up in some kind of trouble. At this point the best thing to do is stop hanging out with her around alcohol. You remain friends, but choose to socialize with her at school or the gym- wherever alcohol isn't present. Thus removing the opportunity for the behaviour without hurting the friendship.

Removing the friend

Some friends are a bad influence no matter where you hang out. Girls need to get comfortable with ending unhealthy relationships. The people you surround yourself with have a profound influence on your thinking, behaviour, and ultimately your future.

It's called peer pressure for a reason, and it's one of the strongest forces known to man.

Recidivism rates (a person's relapse into criminal behavior after going to jail) are astronomically high, with 68% of people released from prison getting arrested within 3 years, 79% within 6 years, and 83% within 9 years. It turns out that when you surround criminals with only other criminals, they actually become more inclined to commit crime and not less. Go figure!

The Positive Side of Peer Pressure?

how to say no to a friend

Peer pressure, or more fundamentally the desire to fit in with others exists deeply within the human species and it's not going away. But peer pressure can also have a positive influence if we surround ourselves with the right people. If you hang out with people who drink and do drugs, chances are that you are going to do drugs too. If you hang out with people who love working out, chances are you’re going to start going to the gym.

Let the influence of other people work for you, not against you.

It’s okay to say no to going to the places where things happen that you're not comfortable with, and it’s okay to stop hanging out with friends who are bad influences on you. If you have one friend who's a drain to the lifeboat that is your purpose, you are morally obligated to stop them from sinking your ship. It's not that you hate them, it's that you love yourself.

“People either inspire you or they drain you, choose wisely.”

Girls Who Fight Self Defense Programs:

Written by Gemma Sheehan, founder of

Girls Who Fight. Our mission is to help women and girls lead safe and confident lives.

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