Do you say maybe when you really mean no?

by Apr 14, 2016Making changes

Something along these lines crossed my Facebook newsfeed this week and made me smile wryly.

You know, that half smile of recognition.

Why do we do it?

Why is no sometimes harder to say than maybe?

Is it because we’re afraid of hurting people’s feelings if we decline an invitation to their face? Is it because we worry that we may be seen to be lacking somehow if we say a straight no without a legitimate excuse? Or is it because we just want to keep our options open?

No can be a difficult word.

It can also be very empowering.

It all depends on how you say it, and what other words you use to accompany it.

Many of the reasons we don’t say no outright are based around our perceived consequences of saying no. Often, we’ve been brought up to believe that saying no is rude. We think that there is the distinct possibility that saying no will burn relationship bridges that can never be rebuilt.

We don’t want to seem unhelpful. We don’t want to do anything that might jeopardise whether we’re liked or not.


Maybe is so nebulous. Non-committal.

Maybe leaves both you and the person asking the question / favour in a state of limbo. The person with the request isn’t really any further forward and you have simply succeeded in postponing the inevitable.

Let’s put it this way. To parents maybe usually means no. To their children maybe usually means yes. Which is generally a recipe for conflict!

Not knowing definitively is often worse than a definite no. So while you might think you’re sparing someone’s feelings, making them stew might actually be doing them a greater disservice.

Think about it for a moment.

I’m sure there have been times when you’ve been told maybe and simmered in a state of false hope for a while before crashing to earth when that maybe morphed into no. Once you know the answer is no you can deal with it and move on, find an alternative, or change the question altogether.

You can make progress.

I’m also sure that you will have been told no many times without feeling the need to cut that particular person out of your life!

Of course, there are ways of saying no.

Communications expert Alexandra Franzen advises:

  • Say it fast – don’t put off the inevitable
  • Explain why, briefly – this helps the askee understand
  • Propose something else – offer an alternative that works better for you

Read her article on How to Say No (Even To A Good Friend) here.

Like most things in life, knowing when and how to say no gets easier with practice. If you’re already really busy, saying maybe to a request for your time will make you feel a greater sense of stress and overwhelm.

Knowing when to say no is a valuable self- preservation skill. Learning how to say it means that you don’t have to come across as being self-centred.

So just do it. Just say no.


(Previously published on Apr 27, 2015.)