How To Say NO (Graciously of course)

Saying no to things makes me squirm. Uncontrollably. It makes me feel icky that I may be turning down something that’s super important to a friend. Or, when I was a part of the work world, something that may have gotten me more pay, improved skills, or a promotion.

Why? Well, for the longest time, I’ve been a people pleaser. Sadly, it’s something society has led women to believe they have to be; to be a people pleaser no matter what they may be sacrificing. I’m also a mediator of sorts. I don’t like confrontation and prefer keeping the peace. Am I a pushover? HECK NO. I just don’t like shouting matches; they’re unproductive.

But, to be honest, I don’t like being a people pleaser. Partly because I feel others take advantage of my generosity and partly because 90% of the time, I want to scream NO, NO, NO! I don’t want to do that! NO dammit!

Secretly, in my brain, it goes like this:

Welcome to the beautiful land of NO. A wonderful and magical place where you’re allowed to say NO all the time. Let that raging, maniacal beast out – shout NO!  PMSing? Shout NO, NO, NO whilst dancing like a crazy gypsy around the person who even dared to ask you to add yet another project or social engagement to your calendar.

Regardless of how much you’d secretly love to re-enact this in real life, sadly, you can’t. A blunt “no” and/or dancing like a demon around your friend will leave you with, yes, you guessed it, no friends. And, after 40 years on this planet, I’ve learned there is something to be said about a woman who has etiquette and manners – she’s usually positive and a joy to be around.

Last week, I had a ‘no’ moment. I wanted to go to an event with my besties, but I had to say no to part of it. And let me say I’ve learned that giving excuses is a gateway for everyone to try to fix your life problems.

How to Say No Graciously

The Initial NO

While you may want to give a firm NO or shout it from a mountaintop, please don’t. It’s not gracious at all and comes off bitchy. That’s how one loses friends and irritates co-workers.

If you have to answer right away, pause, collect your thoughts, and start with a simple, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t.”

If you are undecided about whether you want to go or have time to commit to the project or event, offer an “I’m not sure I can. Let me check my calendar and get back to you.”

When offering your initial ‘No’, it’s important to understand:

Why do you want to say no?

What’s currently on your calendar and/or how many projects and other events are you committed to?

You and your values. (time, money, interest level, does it conflict with your lifestyle?)

Don’t Make Excuses

Excuses open the door for others to solve your problem for you. So do your best to steer clear. At the same time, keep in mind that a blunt NO is harsh. You’ll need to provide some context but stay out of the TMI (too much information) zone. The TMI zone opens you up to all sorts of problem-solving endeavours, guilt trips, and other wonderful emotional journeys. That’s not what you’re after.

I recently made the mistake of offering a: “No, I’m sorry, I can’t afford it.” Gracious? Yes. Built-in Excuse? Yes. Which, of course, opened up the door to my friends offering to pay. This inevitably makes me feel awful and like I’m mooching off friends.

Use the KISS rule: Keep it simple stupid, or you’ll end up with friends trying to persuade you.

If this does happen, It’s okay to resist someone trying to change your mind. Simply stand your ground graciously.

Saying NO more than once

Yes, this will happen. Especially if your initial “no” has an excuse built in. And sometimes, people will try to convince you that attending is in your best interests. While pushing someone to give a “yes” or giving you the third degree is rude and insensitive, continue to be gracious.

If friends or co-workers pressure you, simply repeat your initial response:

“No, I’m sorry I can’t.” or “I’m really sorry, my schedule is full.”

Or, accompany your “no” with a positive remark:

“No, but thanks for offering.”

“No, but thanks for thinking of me.”

“No, but thanks for asking.”

While you don’t want to lie, you don’t want to bring in excuses, either.

According to the Emily Post Institute, “Honesty is one of the bedrock principles of good manners. The simple ‘No thank you’ learned in childhood should be part of every adult’s daily vocabulary.” So the next time you’re faced with the decision to turn down an offer, project request, or girls’ night out invites, remember that “no” is necessary, but it’s how you deliver the message that counts.

How do you handle saying “no” and removing the pressure and guilt from turning something down? Do you have some rules to live by when saying “no”?

Comments +

  1. Steveark says:

    That is tremendously practical advice. the only caution I’d add is really analyse why you want to say no. if it is something that offers no potential value or is an all around bad deal then yeah, say no. but if the real reason is you are afraid of putting yourself out there outside your comfort zone but that you’d really say yes if you thought you could do it? Then say yes. I agreed to act a starring role in a play as an introverted kid with low self esteem. NO idea how I drummed up the courage but I was pretty good and it changed my life. I started saying yes to all kinds of things that scared me and rarely failed. Once or twice I got humiliated but even then I learned from it and find those failures pretty amusing now. My life has been an awesome journey and it would not have happened if I had said no out of fear. my motto is only say no when it is a terrible idea. if there is potential in it, say yes! I know that wasn’t in the scope of your post but I couldn’t help commenting.

    • Michelle says:

      Great point! I couldn’t agree more. If it’s something you’re fearful of, you need to ask yourself: is this something I want to conquer? If yes, then go for it. I’m also an introvert and I’ve done so many things to push myself out of my comfort zone. You often find that the reward is so much better than the regret of not doing it.

      I usually ask myself: Is this something I’ll regret not doing? If yes, then I’m going for it regardless of fear.

      Although this wasn’t in this post, you’ve inspired another one! Thanks 🙂

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels guilty about saying no to something. I hate to let people down but I also have moderate social anxiety so getting me out of the house to do anything is a struggle. All of your tips are awesome though- I am certainly guilty of over explaining why I can’t do something. Next time, I will KISS!!

    • Michelle says:

      Oh my goodness! You are not alone at all. I find when life is a bit mucky, I become a bit antisocial. But that’s a typical INFJ. We retreat from the world sometimes.

      No need to overexplain! Always keep it simple. No one should require an explanation as to why you don’t want to do something.

      • laura ann says:

        Michelle: We are basically social recluses and do not join anything. Been there done that. Casual conversations with people around us is all. Fundraisers in various org. seem to call on same people, so we and friends quit all together. Another issue is lack of appreciation when people volunteer, etc. So be it. Now retired we are not tied to anything. We enjoy reading and outdoor activities like biking. The key is not to get involved in the community or church by joining anything, staying off the radar.

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