“No” might be short and simple word, but lots of us have trouble declining requests.
We often worry about hurting someone else’s feelings even if we really don’t want to do as they ask.
Most of us value our relationships, and sometimes we decide that it’s worth going along with what someone else wants if it means avoiding an argument.
Unfortunately, saying “Yes” when you really mean “No” comes at a cost.
Over time, you will start to resent other people when they keep asking you for favors. Your self-respect will also take a battering.
You may ask yourself, “Why am I happy to be a servant or a human doormat?” or “Why can’t I stand up for myself?”
Luckily, there are a few tricks you can use to say “No” without hurting someone’s feelings.
You can be polite whilst respecting your own needs at the same time!
1. Sandwich your refusal between two positive statements or compliments.
Use this simple formula: Start by thanking the other person for thinking of you, give a polite refusal, and then end on a positive note.
For example, let’s suppose that your friend wants you to babysit her two children on Sunday afternoon, but you want to spend the day relaxing after a tough week at work.
You could say, “Thank you for asking, it’s always an honor to be trusted with someone else’s children!
Unfortunately, I’m not free that day, so my answer has to be no.
It’s always a pleasure to be asked, though.”
This is a gracious reply that preserves your friendship while making it clear that you will not be granting them a favor.
2. Choose a standard refusal phrase.
Finding the right words to say “No” when you’re under stress is hard, so why not make it easier on yourself by coming up with a couple of phrases you can always rely on in the future?
Good choices include “I have too many other commitments so I can’t help you, but thank you for asking,”
“I can’t take on more projects at the moment because my schedule is full,” and “That doesn’t really suit me, so I’ll pass.”
3. Don’t use an excuse.
If you have a genuine reason for a refusal, then feel free to share it with the other person.
However, don’t try to fabricate a story.
The other person might start to suggest ways you could overcome the obstacle, and then the conversation could get seriously awkward.
For instance, if you tell them that you can’t go to the theater with them on Saturday because you can’t get a babysitter, they might just say:
“Oh that’s OK, we’ll go out Monday!” or “No problem, I know a babysitter who’s free Saturday!”
It’s far better to give a straightforward “No” instead.
Making up a solid excuse is actually harder than it looks.
4. Signpost them to an alternative or offer help at a later date.
If you want or need to appear helpful – for instance, perhaps a colleague or boss has asked you for assistance – then suggesting another person who could help them instead can work well.
However, don’t just pull a random name from thin air!
Make sure your suggestion is sensible. Another tactic is to offer to help at a later date.
For instance, you could say,
“I can’t take on this work right now, but my schedule won’t be so heavy in a couple of weeks’ time.
I’ll e-mail you when I’m free.”
If you have a boss who wants you to take on more work and you are already overstretched, tell them that you would love to help, but that you need guidance on how to reprioritize the tasks that are already on your to-do list.
Ask whether they want particular assignments pushed back in order to make space for the new project.
This way, you are politely but firmly reminding them that you aren’t superhuman, and you can’t magically create a few extra hours in the day!
5. Tell them about your personal rules.
It’s rude to try to talk someone out of their personal beliefs, convictions, and rules.
When you explain that a request just doesn’t fit your values or lifestyle, other people will be more inclined to respect your decision.
For example, if someone wants you to volunteer at their charity once a week, you could say something like:
“I’m afraid I can’t help you, because I’ve made a promise to myself to take on fewer commitments this summer.”
If someone offers you a cake containing eggs but you are a vegan, you are well within your rights to say,
“Thank you for offering, but I’m vegan.
That means I don’t eat any animal products.”
Saying “No” is a skill that has to be developed over time.
It can be scary to put your own wants and needs before those of someone else.
However, it gets easier with time.
Think of the people you admire most – it’s a safe bet that they are used to saying “No”!
Remember, the world won’t end just because you refuse to let yourself be used as a servant.
If you have a friend who gets offended when you politely decline an invitation or request, you probably don’t want to be friends with them anyway.