This 30-45 minute group exercise, developed by Tracey Mitchell based on Cheryl Richardson’s, The Art of Extreme Self-Care, should be used on the planning and development of activities, programs, projects, etc.

1. To begin, ask participants what makes it hard to say no. You may or may not choose to write down the ideas as they come out. If the group doesn’t bring them up, suggest the following:

  • We don’t want to feel guilty.
  • We know how it feels to be disappointed and we don’t want to disappoint others.
  • We don’t have the language to say no gracefully.
  • Our fear of conflict keeps us from telling the truth.
  • We want people to like us and are uncomfortable when they don’t.

2. Share the following ‘steps for saying no’ with participants :

  1. Buy some time.
  2. Do a gut check
  3. Tell the truth directly, with grace and love.


  1. Be honest without over-explaining yourself. Express regret but don’t leave the door open when what you need is a wall.
  2. Tell the truth directly and simply.
  3. Depending on the situation, you might offer to help the person asking for something get the help they need (‘No, but…’).
  4. It can sometimes help to create your own absolute yes and no lists so that if there are certain traps you tend to fall into or things you no longer want to do, you can put those on your “no” list. Things you know you want more of in your life can be on your “yes” list.

3. Have participants form two lines so that each person is lined up with a partner. Give the participants a scenario in which someone is being asked to do something, preferably something that would be a common experience for the folks in your group. One side of the group will make the request persistently, the other side will practice saying no, using the steps above (the visible steps will be ‘buy some time’ & ‘say no truthfully and directly with grace & love’). Have participants practice acting this out and then change up the scenario a bit and switch roles to make sure both sides have a chance to do both parts of this. Here’s an example scenario:

“Twos, you are with a local environmental organization and you are asking the person in front of you to join your board. Ones, you are enthusiastic about environmental issues and this is an organization that you have great respect for and it is your DREAM employer. However, you are maxed out to the limit and simply don’t have time right now.”

4. Debrief: Ask some or all of the following questions…

What was it like to be the person saying no? How did it feel? What made it easier or more difficult? What would make it easier or harder to say no in a real-life situation? What was it like to be the person making the request and getting no for an answer? What made it easier or harder for you to be told no? What worked?

Categories: ToolsYouth Engagement