Short on time? For the key points of this article on how to say no, stick to the bold text and the conclusion.

3 tips to politely say no to people:

Do you always feel like you have too much on your plate? Are you always telling people you’re busy

Let’s make something clear: busy is a choice. Perhaps you’re just accepting too many commitments and you’re not too good at saying no to people. Yet. 

Sometimes, it’s very difficult to choose between a yes and a no. And even when you’re quite sure about not wanting to commit, declining an invitation or offer isn’t always that easy. You might think it’s rude and you’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. But you don’t need to be. Learn how to say no respectfully so you can prioritise YOUR TIME and stop feeling guilty about it.

Tip 1: Be assertive and polite

Making yourself heard and staying polite at the same time can be a challenge. Yet, an assertive no is mostly better than a half-no. At least, you’re making yourself clear and not leaving the door ajar.

If you can’t or don’t want to commit to something, own your no. You don’t need to be apologetic about it. Just give a confident answer, showing that you respect your time and priorities. 

To some people, it may seem rude, but with the right hedge, you shouldn’t worry too much about it. By cushioning your no with a polite phrase like “Thanks for asking” you’re making it clear that you appreciate being thought of, yet can’t commit to it

A well-intended compliment or showing your support works wonderfully too. For example, “This is a great cause. Unfortunately, I am too busy on other projects and can’t give it my full attention.” 

Be confident and assertive when you say no. Make it clear there’s no room for a change of heart and be polite to avoid hurting someone’s feelings

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Tip 2: Remember that excuses make things worse

Avoid excuses at all costs. Firstly, excuses are often lies. Secondly, an excuse leaves room to reschedule the activity

Learn to say no without apologising and without giving all sorts of excuses if you want to be genuine. Would you rather be rejected by a “no, I can’t”, or a “No, I’d love to but I have a flat tyre, my dog seems to be sick and I promised my mom I’d buy tea and toilet paper for her.” I’d rather hear an assertive no and be left in doubt than be lied to, wouldn’t you?

So if you don’t want to commit to something, just no is often enough. The renowned author Elizabeth Gilbert uses the following phrase to decline invitations: “Thank you and no.” She explains that when you give excuses, people will find a way to reschedule. Always. No explanation, however, doesn’t leave any room for negotiations. No is no

If it’s just not in your personality to say no without any cushions, give reasons instead of excuses. The founder of NerdFitness.com, Steve Lamb, has a brilliant example. He has rules. It’s simple, really. Whenever you need to decline something, say you have a rule. It’s polite and assertive at the same time. You’re not really rejecting an offer, your just respecting your rules. 

Say, you want to consume less alcohol and someone invites you for a beer on Monday. What answer is stronger than: “No, I have a rule that I don’t drink alcohol on weekdays.” There’s no way around it. That’s just how it is. End of discussion. 

Here’s a real-life big-money example. On the Tim Ferriss Show, Matthew McConaughey told that at one time he had decided he would not do any romcoms anymore. That was his new rule. Then he received an 8-million-dollar offer. But he said no. He received several counter-offers, up to 15 million dollars. Yet, he still said no. His rule stated that he would not do romcoms anymore. 

If Matthew can say no to this kind of money, I’m sure you can say no to a beer or a lousy Christmas party. 

Be honest when you say no. People don’t respect excuses. If you must hedge your no, give a valid reason, like a rule. 

Tip 3: Reply timely

At first, you might still be in doubt between a yes and a no. Just take your time to consider your options here. It’s better to take some time than to commit to something you’ll later regret.

However, if you’re sure you’re going to say no, don’t leave people hanging. It’s a big lack of respect to leave others in doubt

For example, a friend of mine needed to get his website translated. I sent him a proposal and he said he’d consider it. Never heard back from him. When does the consideration become a no, though? For how long should I keep space in my agenda? I might be losing out on other opportunities because I’m respecting his decision-making time

Another example: someone invites you to come along to a concert. They have one extra ticket. You said you’d think about it but never get back to them. When do they decide to ask someone else? Perhaps when it’s already too late and they end up staying at home because they didn’t want to go by themselves.

If you still think that saying no is rude, remember that it’s a whole lot more polite than leaving someone in doubt. Eliminate their anxiety and don’t sell them a dream. If you’re sure you don’t want to do it, just say so. 

If you are really in doubt, take your time to think your answer through but as soon as you’ve made your final decision, let it know. No one likes to be kept waiting. 

Conclusion:

Be assertive and confident when your answer is no. Excuses and half-answers are not OK. They are less polite than an honest “No, I can’t.”

When you’re not being assertive and you’re using excuses, the discussion might go on forever. When you need to tell someone 10 times you don’t want to do it because you don’t have time, you are actually losing a lot of time and energy. Make yourself clear from the start. 

If an assertive no seems too rude to you and you’re still wondering how to say no nicely, have a look at this infographic with a few ways to say no.

What is your preferred way to politely say no to someone?

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Written by Kjell
Edited by Loki

Sources and further reading about how to say no

How to politely say no

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