How to Successfully Say No

How to Successfully Say No March 25, 2013

Think of all the times when it would be swell to decline a request that comes your way.


Sure, sometimes you absolutely can’t say no. Like, when your boss dumps a mammoth-sized stack of paper on your desk and says get to work or you’ll be fired. Or when you’re watching football on TV and your wife goes into labor.


But a lot of life revolves around unessential queries that come our way.


  • Can you attend a function that you’re not interested in?
  • Can you serve on a board where you’re not even sure what the organization does?
  • Can you volunteer for an event when you’re already overcommitted and simply want to spend one evening per week sitting on the couch watching reruns of Matlock?


What then, conscientious citizen? How do you gracefully bow out?


People tell you to lie. Sure. Make up some excuse that doesn’t really exist. But there are serious ethical problems with that option, not to mention the problem of getting caught. Like, you tell somebody you’re going to be somewhere else, but then he shows up at the other place for some strange reason and doesn’t find you there. Yeah, it happens.


Another option is always to tell the hard truth. I mean, the hard, hard truth. No, I don’t want to be at your party because you smell like stale cheese. Although the truth is almost always the best option, sometimes the hard truth lands you into more hot water, not less.


So … enter the courteous solution.


It’s truthful, and used the world over by everybody from high-powered executives to highly-harried volunteers. It’s polite yet effective, and its use will successfully excuse you from of a myriad of unsought situations.


Two simple steps are involved.


1)      Genuinely thank your requester.




2)      Strategically ask permission to decline the offer.


The first step is important. It’s also sincere. The person would not have made a request of you unless he thinks you can add value to a situation. It’s an honor to be asked. Never forget that. The person has probably risked something to pose a request to you. He becomes vulnerable to being turned down. Which you are indeed about to do.


The second step is strategically polite. When it comes to living your life, you’re not actually seeking the other person’s authorization regarding what you can or cannot do. But the phraseology sets up your response as gracious, not harsh. And that’s what you almost always want when declining a request—to preserve the relationship.


So here’s how it looks in action.


REQUESTER: Hey, can you do XYZ?


YOU: Oh, thanks for thinking of me for that. Would it be okay if I said no this time?


Do you see the gratitude phrase? And do you see the permission phrase?


Congratulations, countrymen, you’ve just successfully said no.



Question: What other polite-yet-effective ways have you found to say no?



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