If you want to know how to say no politely, this post is for you!
I have struggled to say no to people for as long as I can remember. Call me obsequious, complaisant, or an annoying people-pleaser, but the idea of turning someone down when they’ve asked me to do something makes me feel uncomfortable, even when it means sacrificing time and energy I just don’t have. It feels so much easier to say yes in the moment, but when I do that, I inevitably end up spending a lot of time trying to get out of the things I’ve committed to but don’t have time for.
As I’ve gotten older and my schedule has gotten busier, I’ve been forced to step outside my comfort zone and resist my people-pleasing tendencies. And while it still makes me feel incredibly guilty, I’ve learned that it’s possible to say no without sounding like a jerk.
If you want to know how to say no politely, these tips and ideas have been incredibly helpful to me, and I hope you find them just as useful!
How To Say No Politely
1. Preface it with a compliment
Whether you’re turning down drinks with the gals or a business opportunity you can’t squeeze into your schedule, try and start with a compliment to soften the blow. Tell your friends how much you miss them and that you can’t wait to see them once things settle down with your new job, and tell your business colleague that the opportunity he or she presented to you sounds incredibly exciting, and that you regret your busy schedule won’t allow you to participate. Taking the time to acknowledge the importance of what’s being asked of you goes a long way in validating the other person, allowing you to politely decline without causing hard feelings between the 2 of you.
2. Do it quickly
When someone asks you to do something you don’t have time for (or don’t have an interest in), your initial reaction may be to say yes before concocting a convincing reason to back out at the last minute. You may think you’re being kinder with your initial agreement to do the thing you’ve been asked to do, but if you want to know how to say no politely, authenticity is so incredibly important.
If someone asks you to do something and you can’t (or don’t want to) commit, be upfront with them as soon as possible. While waiting until the last minute to come up with an excuse may seem a lot less stressful to you in the moment, it’s highly unfair to the other person. The more notice you give them, the more likely they will be able to find someone else to fill your shoes.
3. Be honest
As tempting as it is to fabricate an elaborate excuse to try and get out of something you don’t want to do, honestly really is the best policy. You’re less likely to get caught in a lie, and the person you are letting down will respect you more in the long-run if you tell them the truth. If you want to know how to say no politely while still being honest, here are a few short and sweet statements you can try:
‘I appreciate the offer, but I’m already booked that day.’
‘Thanks for thinking of me! Sadly, I have too much on my plate already.’
‘I’m totally maxed out right now, but can we re-connect in a month when things calm down?’
4. Don’t dwell
When you’ve made your decision to say no to someone, do it as honestly and quickly as you can, and then move on. Get straight to the point and don’t over-explain. The more you dwell, the more you open yourself up for negotiation, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid! Be firm and assertive, and remember to prioritize your own needs. Never agree to do something simply to avoid upsetting or making someone feel uncomfortable.
5. Propose a compromise
If you’re really struggling to figure out how to say no politely, another great strategy is to provide a compromise to help show your support. Here are some examples to try:
‘Unfortunately, I just don’t have the capacity to do that right now, but I can help you find someone who can if you’d like?’
‘I don’t have the bandwidth to speak at / organize your event, but I can help promote it.’
‘I’m terrible at baking, but I know Sarah loves to. Maybe she’d be interested in helping with the school bake sale?’
‘That sounds like an interesting project, but I’m already working on X,Y, and Z. Which one of those items can I delegate to someone else so I can help you with this?’
Offering a compromise is a brilliant way to let someone down gently. You’re still showing support, but passing the buck to someone else.
6. Stop feeling guilty
The problem with guilt is that it eventually turns into resentment, and while it would be nice to have a never-ending supply of time to commit to every single thing that crosses our paths, we must remember that we are only human. There are only 24 hours in each day, and while we don’t want to let people down, we need to focus on the stuff that matters most to us.
Suzette Hinton once said, ‘Sometimes, we need to say no so that we have more time to say yes.’ Along those same lines, Josh Billings also said, ‘Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.’
In other words, it’s not only okay to say no, but it’s also imperative to our well-being.
If you’re trying to figure out how to say no politely, my challenge to you this week is to decline a request or invitation to something you don’t have time for. Remember to do it quickly – and honestly – and to stop feeling guilty about it. It might feel a little weird at first, but I promise you the short-term discomfort will be worth the long-term gain!