The Art of Saying “No” and Setting Boundaries

By Kitty J. Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT, RScP

Certified Life Strategies & Stress Management Coach


No" is a complete sentence.” ~Anne Lamott


Anne Lamott is an author who has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey and is known for her wry wit, her political activism, and her sometimes divergent thoughts on faith. The sentence above is a mark of her ability to cut to the chase. No interpretation is required. “What about ‘no’ do you not understand?” one might ask of anyone who doesn’t get the meaning of the sentence above.

Yet, many of us struggle with the word, “no.” We fear that it will make us look unlikeable or rigid. We often want to say “no” but sugar coat it to such an extreme that the person asking the favor or making the request leaves us with the impression that, while we were reluctant enough, we didn’t’ t actually say, “No.”

And thus the trouble begins. As we fail to make “no” clear, we wind up feeling more and more overwhelmed and resentful.

Learning to say “no” is essential to our ultimate wellbeing, and is the first step toward setting important boundaries. Boundaries are absolutely necessary, and they should not be illusive things that we all talk about but never set. Really successful people learn the importance of setting boundaries and do so on a regular basis.

Setting boundaries is important both at work and at home, with friends and with family. When setting boundaries, you need to consider carefully what boundaries are necessary for your health and wellbeing. Not everyone needs the same boundaries…boundaries are as individual as we are…but you need to be aware of your own boundaries and you need to be able to communicate them clearly.

What are your boundaries? Do you let your friends take advantage of you? Are they always late for appointments or get togethers and expect you to be waiting on them regardless? If so, you should communicate to them that your time is valuable and you would appreciate it if they would start adhering to the agreed upon time. Otherwise, if they are 10 minutes late, you won’t be waiting for them. It will only take one time before they will see that you are serious, and I suspect that you sticking to your new resolve will engender respect on their part and they won’t leave you waiting for them again. If they do, you may need to consider the friendship as a whole.

At home, you need to talk to your spouse and children about boundaries. Do you allow them to yell at you when they are angry? If so, that is a tougher issue to tackle, but tackle it you must. You set new boundaries if necessary, and be prepared to stick to them unless you like having a reputation for not being taken seriously and even abused by the very people who are supposed to love you.

According to Jane Collingwood in an article on the importance of personal boundaries, “Setting clear personal boundaries is the key to ensuring relationships are mutually respectful, supportive and caring. Boundaries are a measure of self-esteem. They set the limits for acceptable behavior from those around you, determining whether they feel able to put you down, make fun, or take advantage of your good nature.”  

Collingwood goes on to offer the following with regard to tactics you may use when dealing with objections from those who chafe at your newfound respect for yourself:

  • Be consistent with your new boundaries
  • Keep them simple
  • Stay calm at all times
  • Be responsible for your own emotional reactions rather than blaming other people
  • If it appears you need to compromise, be flexible, but take it slowly and don’t agree to anything that doesn’t feel right

Once you have established strong, clear boundaries, people will give you more respect. This means you can be yourself to a greater extent, asking for what you really want and need without fear of judgment. Emotional manipulators will back off and in their place sustainable, loving relationships will thrive.

Do yourself a big favor and start paying attention to your boundaries starting today. If what you are doing is working for you, great! But if you are feeling disrespected and under valued because you haven’t set up appropriate boundaries, I suggest you consider what you particular boundaries are and then have some serious conversations with your boss, your co-workers, your family members and your friends. You will be glad you did.



 Collingwood, J. “The Importance of Personal Boundaries.” (

Kitty Boitnott
Boitnott Coaching, LLC

Glen Allen, VA 23060
United States of America