29 Mar 2019 | 4 min read

Nice Ways to Say "No"

Sometimes saying no can be difficult. We may feel pressure or stress when we have to give an answer that we think might make others uncomfortable or upset.

There might be many different fears coaxing us into us saying, “Yes” when we’d much rather say “No.” The fear of conflict, fear of disappointing others, fear of missing out…the list goes on and on. Whatever the reason, boundaries are needed to help us reply to others without the attached feelings of guilt, remorse, loss, or anger.

Boundaries protect our most valuable resources: Time, Talents, Relationships, Self, and Treasures.

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”

Brene Brown

When we discover how to say, “No” we learn to set healthy boundaries in our lives which gives us the freedom to pursue our true passions and develop strong relationships based on mutual respect.

Below are a few polite ways to start practicing saying, “No” while protecting our boundaries.

“Thank you, but…no”
I call this one the Gratitude Decline. These phrases display gratitude for the offer/compliment/request while giving yourself a graceful way to bow out.

Some more ways to say the gratitude decline:
“No, but thank you for thinking of me.”
“That’s very kind of you, but I’m unavailable.”
“How lovely for you to ask, but no thank you.”
“I’m flattered, but no thank you.”
“No thank you, but it sounds wonderful.”

“I’m sorry, but…no”
Here’s what I think of as an Apology Decline. You are expressing empathy and regret that you can’t accommodate someone, while still firmly sticking to your guns. By adding an apology, you are acknowledging the askers’ feelings by noting it may be inconvenient to them. Sometimes we feel the need to give an explanation. Although we’re not obligated to explain, it’s okay to be honest if you’d like to share why you can’t honor a request.

For a while, when I was in school and working full time I got to be an expert in saying, “No.” In fact, I had the opportunity to turn down a lot of requests…even ones I would have liked to agree to. My standard line was, “Sorry, but I honestly don’t have any margin in my life right now. I’m focusing all my extra time on school.” Here’s what I loved about the statement.

1) It was true, 2) it told people what my priorities were, and 3) reminded me that I needed to keep centered on my goals.

Some more ways to say the apology decline:
“I apologize, but I can’t at this time.”
“No, I’m sorry.”
“Unfortunately it’s not a good time.”
“My apologies, but I won’t be able to make that work.”

Saying no should not bring feelings of guilt or loss. As the legendary Steve Jobs once said, “Focus is about saying no.” By turning down some opportunities, you open the door to others.

Remember, when telling people no, it’s best to keep it short, not overly explanatory, firm, and kind. Think of how you would like to be turned down and try to respect that for others. A no doesn’t have to be a stressful conversation. Use the opportunity to practice setting boundaries and refocusing on your personal goals.