business, wellness

Learning to Gracefully say “No”

Learning to say no has been one of the hardest things for me to tackle this year. I am pretty good under pressure, and I think as a result people can’t always tell when I’m stressed out. Even if I have stacks of paper on my desk, it seems someone is always coming by to ask me to take something else on. It can be stressful, overwhelming, and emotionally draining. The more I practice saying no, not only the better I feel- but the more my quality of life improves.


let me digress by saying that there are many reasons to say yes to a project. You get to learn new skills, add value, possibly collaborate, and have the confidence that the job got done to your standards.

Similarly there are definitely reasons to say no. You might not have the time, you might not be the right person for the job, you might be being taken advantage of..etc.

Whatever the scenario is, it’s useful to learn why and how to gracefully and respectfully say no.


Decide in advance what you can handle: If you have an idea of what you can take on and what you cannot, then it’ll be easier in the moment to know what choice to make. This way you’ll avoid fumbling when your coworker asks you to finish his marketing project last minute. If you’ve already defined your boundaries, you’ll know the answer you feel most comfortable making.

Know your reason, but don’t feel pressured to express it: There are some projects that I turn down because they aren’t a good use of my time. Others because I don’t want someone to advantage of me. I try to be cognizant of why I don’t think I should be doing something specific. Knowing why I want to and should say no helps me stand my ground especially if it’s something that goes against my values.

At the same time I don’t always feel the need to explicitly express why I am saying no. The times you might want to avoid giving a reason are when someone is going to try to change your mind. If you have made up your mind about not participating in something, then the other person/people should respect that. If someone is just going to talk you out of your reason for saying no..don’t feel obligated to give them the opportunity.

That’s not to say be elusive or secretive. If someone generally doesn’t understand then of course feel free to explain yourself, but don’t feel you need to succumb to someone pressuring you so they can get their way.

Practice different ways to say no: Saying no doesn’t have to be daunting. I used to feel like I was being lazy when I’d say no, but in fact depending on the situation it might be the more productive thing to do! Here are some way to say no without feeling like a complete jerk. They are for various situations, but you get the picture…

  • “I appreciate the offer, but no thank you”
  • “With my current work load, I won’t be able to give that project the attention it needs”
  • “I’d love to help, but I can’t”
  • “Actually I am not interested in (seeing that movie, going to that concert) this weekend”
  • “Thanks for thinking of me, but I think you (or whoever’s job it actually is) would be better suited for that project”
  • “My budget is tight right now, so I can’t spend the extra money”

Realize you can’t please everyone: It makes it hard to say no when you are a people pleaser. Part of getting over that, is realizing that you can’t do everything all of the time. You can still fulfill the commitments you make, work hard, and be honest. People aren’t going to like you less if you don’t take on the entire world. We each have our own responsibilities. Taking on everything isn’t healthy and it really isn’t helpful in the long run.

Realize you can be more productive: Saying no can be a positive and more productive way of doing business or being a friend. The projects or events you commit to will actually have your full attention. It’s better to do one thing the right way instead of giving half attention to two things.

Compromise & negotiate: You might want to say no to something because your needs aren’t being met. If there situation were a little different would you be willing to say yes?

For example- say you don’t want to go out with a friend, because you always end up spending too much money or staying out after you’re ready to go home. You can try to something along the lines of, “I would love to go if you don’t mind that I leave at 5” or “That works, but I can only spend $50”. Whatever your stipulation is, be specific.

Here is another example for a work setting. “I’d be happy to finish the research report. I’ll make sure to add both your name and mine as the writers”

Suggest an alternative: Adding an alternative always feels a lot more supportive. “I don’t have the time to find that answer right now, but I bet if you ask the IT department they would know”.

Be preemptive: When someone is hinting that they want you take something on, and that something is going to get a no from you, you can express that BEFORE they even ask.  For example:
Person A: “Gee I hate driving myself to the cleaners. I really wish I had someone to take me this Saturday.”

Person B: “Yea I hear you. I won’t be able to drive you that day, but I hope you find someone who can.”

Be honest: I know earlier I said that you should’t feel pressured to give a reason. Sometimes It’s best to just be honest, especially if you feel uncomfortable or the person just isn’t getting the hint. If you avoid situations because you “have to feed a friends cat” then you might find yourself always having to “feed that cat”.


I hope these suggestions help! I am still working on getting better at saying no. It was hard at first, but the more I am honest with myself and the commitments I want to make-the easier it becomes. Realizing the bigger picture and standing my ground help.

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