How to say ‘no’ nicely

Specific, graceful words to keep you focused on what matters

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Do you often feel overwhelmed?

Do interruptions steal your time and stop you getting what you want done?

Do you wish you could perhaps say ‘no’ more often without causing a problem or falling out with someone.

Well, this short blog will be some help to you!

The key thing to remember is:

To say yes to our top priorities, we must say no to other things.

A tiny bit of effort in all directions goes nowhere. Only concentrated effort can create the larger change we seek.

Yet we all struggle to say ‘no’, because either we get excited about so many things, or we often feel an overwhelming pressure to say ‘yes’ no matter what we feel inside.

A fear of not being liked is the biggest obstacle. If I say no, what will others think of me?

Realising that graceful ways to say ‘no’ will really help you.

Here are a few ideas on graceful and effective ways to say ‘no’ more often.

How do you say no to your manager?

Managers don’t like ‘no’s and they don’t like excuses. But managers understand professionalism and organisation:

“That’s a great idea! I also have x, y, z on my plate. How do you rank the importance of this new idea?”

Or “In what order do you think I could fit it in?”

How do you say no to random requests?

You could offer a direct, polite no:

“I am flattered that you thought of me but I’m afraid I don’t have the ability at the moment.”

Or offer an alternative:

“Thanks for reaching out! I don’t generally get involved with (what you are being asked to do), but if you have some specific questions, I’m happy to answer via email? Let me know.”

How do you say no to friends?

Say it as it is:

“Thank you for this wonderful invitation! You have something really fun planned. This time however, I think I’ll have to pass.”

Maybe followed by something like:

“I’d still love to spend more time with you. How does this alternative time work for you?”

Our friends extend bids by inviting us. If we want to keep those friendships, we need to extend bids back too.

The general rule:

The key to saying no is to be clear on what matters most to you, to have a good time management and scheduling system (see our ‘Take back your time’ material for help with this), and to find ways to gracefully decline whilst maintaining or building the relationship.

This often takes the form of:

  1. Thankyou statement
  2. Graceful decline
  3. Open question to build the relationship

In order to be clear on what matters to you, the following 3 tips may also help:

  1. Define what you value

If you know what you value, you know what you’re giving up when saying yes to this, that, and the other.

  1. Select a few, (maximum 3), key professional priorities

Write down those priorities every day. When a new thing pops up, ask yourself: How does this fit with my one or two priorities?

  1. Realise that a clear ‘no’ is kinder than a flaky ‘yes’

We all know that person who says yes and flakes at the last minute. Wouldn’t you rather hear a no upfront?

We hope this has been helpful to you – two further things: 

  1. We know that these ideas are easy to understand, but much harder to do. The key to learning is repetition and sharing. So we have recorded a 7 minute audio version that you can listen to repeatedly, and share with others – you can download it here.
  2. If you’d like some coaching on how to apply these time management and personal effectiveness skills in your life, you know where to contact us!

Slow Selling is a UK based not for profit organisation for small business owners.

The aim is to help you grow your business through customer loyalty, reputation and referrals … without all the hype, hassle and nonsense. To find out more, please contact us on our website

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