Tips for Saying No Gracefully

Fact: You are always saying no to something.

I used to be one of those people who could never say “no” to anyone. Then one day it occurred to me that I was making choices. Every time I said “yes” out of obligation, I was saying “no” to something else; and, often, what I was saying “no” to was more important than those things that I was saying yes to. From that point on, before I said “yes,” I asked myself the following question: “By saying yes to this, will that force me to say “no” to something else that’s important to me?”

 It’s one thing to know that we need to say no; it’s another to feel comfortable doing it. Here are 9 things that you can do to feel more at ease in saying no. 

 1.  Keep in mind that when you are saying “no” you are simply saying “yes” to those things that you have decided are a priority. 

 2. Remember that a request is just that – a request. And, if the person making the request is being open and honest, then it is entirely reasonable to decline the request. 

 3. Since it is a request, you have every right to counter-offer. Here are a couple of ways to counter-offer:

  • “I’d love to help out with that project; unfortunately, that deadline won’t work with my schedule. Is the deadline flexible?”
  • “I’d love to be part of that project; however, I’m not comfortable with the role that you are proposing for me. Could we discuss other ways that I might contribute?”

 4. Instead of simply saying “no,” is it possible to offer an alternative solution? For example, I allow myself a day a month where I donate my time and do pro bono speaking events. Accordingly, if someone contacts me and wants me to speak at their monthly meeting for free and I’m already committed to my date that month, I simply say “Unfortunately, that month doesn’t work for me. Can we look at an alternative month?”

 5.  Soften the “no.” Instead of just saying “no” and leaving it at that, soften it. For example, “Your dinner party sounds like a lot of fun; unfortunately, we can’t make it this time. I hope you’ll invite us in the future.” 

 6.  Understand that if you say “no” and the other person gets angry, it likely has very little to do with the request. There is something else going on and you might want to probe to discover what that is. Try this: “I can see that this is clearly important to you. It seems that this goes a bit deeper than my saying no. Our relationship is important to me so I’d like to resolve this. Can we discuss it?”

 7.  Get all the information before committing. Don’t say yes to anything until you fully understand what you are getting into. If you think it’s something you are interested in say something like, “That sounds like something I’d like to be part of. However, before I make a decision, I’ll need to know more about it.” Things to learn:

  • What – exactly – needs to be done?
  • What is the deadline?
  • How much time will it take?
  • Will there be meetings? If so, are those in person or by phone?
  • Who will I be working with? 
  • What results are we working towards?
  • How will my performance be evaluated?

 8. Know your priorities and be true to them. The reason that this helps us to say no gracefully is because then we are simply honoring a commitment that we have made to ourselves. If we don’t know our own priorities and we are constantly being swept along by others we become resentful and that gets in the way of saying no with grace. Ask yourself this question: “How does this opportunity contribute to my priorities?”

 9. Finally, if you are one of those people who find themselves saying “yes” as though you have no control over it, memorize the following and use it when someone asks for your involvement: “That’s sounds interesting. Let me check my schedule and I will get back to you tomorrow.” This should give you the space and time to make a decision that you want to make.