Guilt-Free Ways to Say No

Finding it difficult to turn people down? Here’s how to say no when you need to.

The direct no

You may sometimes feel you need to explain why you’re saying no. The problem is, explanations are often heard as excuses. For some people, your excuse is an opportunity to persuade you to say ‘yes’.

A direct approach is often needed. And some ways of saying ‘no’ work better than others. Saying ‘I can’t/won’t’ gets straight to the point but the most likely instant response will be ‘why not?’ Before you know it, you’re in explanation territory again.

Keep your ‘no’ message short, simple and respectful. For example:

‘Thanks for asking, but I’m not able to help.’
‘I’ll have to say no as I have other commitments.’
‘My schedule is full so it’s a no this time.’

The negotiated no

You may balk at saying no to some people – your boss, for instance. But you can say it with some tactful framing. Your ‘no’ message should help others realise that something has to give if they want another thing done. Useful statements include:

‘I’m working on Task A right now. So I can’t fit in B. Which would you prefer I do?’
‘If you want me to do Task B, I’m going to have to put aside Task A. Is this OK with you?’
‘I have deadlines this week for Tasks A and B. It’s not going to be possible to do Task C as well.’

Ultimately, the negotiated no recognises the other person’s authority, but also helps you manage your workload. Together you agree what needs a ‘yes’ and what needs a ‘no’.

The helpful no

This ‘no’ message helps you negotiate whether or not ‘no’ becomes ‘yes’. You offer alternative options to the request being made. For example:

‘I can’t do A, but I can do B.’
‘I haven’t got time right now. However, I can schedule this in for …’
‘I’m not the best person to help with this. Here are the details for someone who can help.’

The helpful no also sweetens the pill if ‘no’ remains ‘no’. People will usually appreciate your genuine efforts to help them.

The reinforced no

Some people won’t take no for an answer. But you don’t have to give in just because they won’t hear your message.

You may need to repeat your ‘no’ a few times. Remain calm and polite. Avoid justifying your response and continue to use your simple and direct ‘no’ messages. It may take time for people to realise that one ‘no’ should be enough, but they’ll get the message eventually.

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