Do you find it difficult to say “no”? If so, you’re not alone. You might worry that if you say “No,” other people will be hurt, annoyed, or disappointed. Saying no to people may feel selfish, especially if you tend to put everyone else’s needs above your own.
However, saying no is an important social skill. If you always say yes, you might take on too many obligations and burn out as a result. You might not have time for your favorite activities or hobbies if you go along with what everyone else wants you to do. Saying no is also essential when it comes to maintaining your integrity; if you always say yes, you might end up doing things that don’t match your values and beliefs.
In summary, saying “No” helps you maintain healthy boundaries in your relationships and strike a balance between helping others and making time for yourself. In this guide, you’ll learn how to say no politely without feeling awkward or guilty.
How to politely say “no”
Here are some ways you can respectfully decline an offer, turn down a request, or say “no” to an invitation.
1. Thank the other person for their offer
Saying “Thank you” helps you to come across as polite and considerate, which can keep the conversation friendly, even if the other person feels disappointed by your answer.
For example, you could say:
- “Thank you very much for thinking of me, but I can’t.”
- “Thank you for asking me, but my diary is full.”
- “That’s so kind of you to ask me to your wedding, but I can’t make it.”
- “Thank you for inviting me, but I have a prior commitment.”
However, this tactic isn’t always appropriate. Don’t say “Thank you” if it’s obvious that the other person is asking you for something you’d probably rather not do. For example, if your colleague is asking you to take on some of their workload for a couple of days and you’re already stressed out, saying “Thank you for asking” may come across as sarcastic.
If giving compliments feels phony, check out our article on how to give sincere compliments that make people feel great.
2. Connect the person to someone who could help
You might not be able to help the person who has asked you for a favor, but you may be able to connect them with someone else who could lend a hand. To avoid causing inconvenience, only use this strategy if you’re sure that the third party has enough time to help.
For example, you might say, “I have absolutely no free time today, so I can’t help you put together some concepts for the presentation. But I think Lauren’s meeting wrapped up early, so she might be able to give you some ideas. I’ll send you her email address, and you can set up a quick meeting.”
3. Explain that your schedule is full
Declining an offer on the basis that you simply don’t have time can work well; it’s a simple approach, and most people won’t push back. For example, you could say, “I just don’t have time right now, so I’ll have to pass,” or “My schedule is full. I can’t take on anything new.”
If the other person is persistent, say, “I’ll let you know if I get some free time” or “I’ve got your number; I’ll text you if my schedule opens up.”
4. Refer to one of your personal rules
When you refer to a personal rule, you are signaling to the other person that your refusal isn’t personal and that you’d give the same reply to anyone who made the same request.
Here are some examples of ways you can mention personal rules when you need to say “No:”
- “No, I have a strict personal policy against lending money to friends.”
- “Thank you for inviting me to the cookout, but I always spend Sunday afternoons with my family, so I can’t come.”
- “I don’t have people to stay overnight, so the answer’s no.”
5. Offer a partial “yes”
If you want to help someone out but can’t offer them exactly the kind of help they want, you could give a partial yes. Spell out what you can and can’t do.
For example, you might say, “I can’t edit your presentation by the end of tomorrow afternoon, but I can spend half an hour proofreading it for you before you turn it in?” or “I don’t have time to hang out all day Sunday, but we could grab brunch and coffee?”
6. Say that you aren’t the right fit
Most people realize that you can’t argue with someone’s feelings, so declining a request on the grounds that it just doesn’t feel right for you can be an effective tactic.
For example, you could say, “I don’t feel I’m the right person to do that, so I’m going to pass,” or, “That sounds like a wonderful opportunity, but it’s not for me, so I’m going to say no.”
7. Explain how a “Yes” would affect other people
Often, it’s more difficult for someone to push back against a “no” if they realize you’d be letting other people down by saying “yes.” Try spelling out exactly how and why someone else would lose out if you went along with their request.
For example, let’s say a friend wants to stay with you over the weekend while visiting their family. Your apartment is small, and your girlfriend is going to be preparing for her exams all weekend in the living room.
You could tell your friend, “No, you can’t stay at my apartment this weekend. My girlfriend is preparing for some important exams next week, and having a guest to stay would make it hard for her to focus on her studies.”
This strategy can also be useful when you need to say no to your boss. For example, you might say, “I’m pleased you think I’m capable of organizing the conference. Normally, I’d say “Yes!” because it would be a chance for me to learn something new. But I just don’t have time in the coming weeks to do a good job without letting my team down.”
8. Show empathy for the other person’s situation
If you show some empathy for the person who is asking you for help, they may find it easier to accept your “no.” Even though they might be disappointed by your answer, they will probably appreciate your concern.
Here are some examples of how you can show empathy while still declining a request:
- “I know that planning this wedding has been all-consuming. But I’m not the right person to help you plan the color scheme and menus.”
- “Dogsitting three big dogs must be exhausting, but I can’t spare any time this weekend to help you watch them.”
- “Your life is so busy! It’s crazy how much stuff you have to juggle. But I don’t have time to drive your son to school every morning.”
9. Acknowledge authority when necessary
It can be especially difficult to say “no” to someone in authority who has some kind of power over you. For example, your boss probably has a lot of influence over your working life, so saying “no” to them may be hard, particularly if they have a formal management style or an intimidating personality.
Try to make it clear that you know who is in charge. By doing this, you might make the other person less defensive and more likely to accept your no without argument because they will realize that you aren’t trying to undermine their authority.
For example, you might say to a boss who wants you to run what will probably be yet another unsuccessful marketing campaign, “I know the final decision is yours. But I really feel that so far, social media marketing hasn’t worked well for us, and it may be time to try something else.”
10. Back up your “no” with your body language
Assertive body language can help you get your message across. When you say no, stand or sit upright instead of slouching. Avoid bowing your head, try to maintain eye contact, and try not to fidget. You want to come across as confident, not nervous or submissive.
Our article on how to use confident body language has more tips you may find useful.
11. Ask for time to think about your response
You don’t always need to respond to a request straight away. Depending on the situation, you might be able to ask for a few hours or even a couple of days to think about your decision.
For example, if your friend calls on Monday to invite you to a party on Friday, it’s OK to say, “I don’t know whether that will work for me this weekend. I’ll get back to you by Thursday.”
12. Propose an alternative solution
Most problems have multiple solutions. If you want to help someone but can’t agree to their request, you could come up with a completely different way to solve their problem instead of simply saying “no.”
For example, let’s say your friend is going to a formal dinner party. They don’t own any suitable clothes and ask to borrow one of your outfits. Your friend doesn’t tend to take care of their belongings, so you don’t want to say yes.
You could say, “I’d rather not lend anyone my clothes; I just don’t feel comfortable with it. How about we go and pick out something from a hire shop? I know an awesome place just outside of town.”
13. Use the broken record technique
If you’ve tried to say “no” politely, but the other person won’t accept your answer, repeat the same words, in the exact same tone of voice, several times until they stop asking.
Here’s an example of how to use the broken record technique:
Them: “Oh, come on, I only need $30.”
You: “No, I don’t lend money to people.”
Them: “Really? It’s only $30!”
You: “No, I don’t lend money to people.”
Them: “Seriously, I’ll pay you back next week. It’s no big deal.”
You: “No, I don’t lend money to people.”
Them: “…OK, fine.”
14. Strengthen your boundaries
If you feel guilty whenever you say “no,” you may need to work on your boundaries. The first step is to realize that your needs are just as important as anyone else’s, so there is no reason to feel guilty for saying “no.” If you’re a people-pleaser, this may require a lot of self-reflection and a willingness to challenge your beliefs, but our article on how to set boundaries is a great place to start.
It can also help to think about how you have reacted in the past when someone has said “no” to you. You may have been disappointed on occasion, but you probably got over it quite quickly. In most cases, saying “no” won’t cause any long-term damage to a relationship.
How to say “no” in specific situations
Here are some examples of what to say when you need to tell someone “no” in potentially awkward social situations.
1. How to turn down a job offer
You don’t need to give an in-depth explanation of your reasons for turning down a job offer. Keep your message short, polite, and professional.
Here are a couple of examples showing ways you can respectfully and professionally decline a role:
- “Thank you very much for making me this offer. I’m going to have to decline because I’ve accepted another position, but I really appreciate your time.”
- “Thanks for offering me the job. Unfortunately, I can’t accept it for personal reasons, but I’d like to thank you for the opportunity.”
2. How to say no to a date
When declining a date, try to be sensitive to the other person’s feelings. Remember that it often takes a lot of courage to ask a guy or a girl out and risk rejection.
Here are a few ways you can kindly say no to a date:
- In most situations, saying, “I’m very flattered you asked, but I don’t think we’re a match,” will usually get the message across. If they don’t understand or if they push you further, say, “Thanks for the offer, but I’m not interested.”
- If the other person is a friend or colleague, you could say, “I like you a lot as a friend, but I don’t have feelings for you.”
- If you’ve already been on a first date but don’t want to see the other person again, you could say, “I had a nice time, but I didn’t feel a connection, so I don’t think we should meet up again” or “It was nice to meet you, but I don’t think we’re a good fit, so I’m going to say no.”
- If you are in a relationship or don’t want to date right now, simply tell them the truth. For instance, you could say, “Thank you, but I’m not single,” or “Thank you, but I’m not looking to date at the moment.”
It’s usually best to avoid making excuses when turning someone down because they can lead to awkward situations later on. For example, if you say, “I’m too busy to date right now,” when the real reason is that you just aren’t interested, they might come back in a few weeks and try asking you out again. Try to be honest, even if it feels difficult.
You might also find this article on how to overcome the fear of confrontation if you think that could be the reason behind you saying yes when you’d rather say no.