7 Ways to Say “No” if You're Introverted or Shy

Often there’s a fear of rejection or a desire to avoid confrontation.

Posted Jul 16, 2017

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Do you have trouble saying “no” sometimes, especially if you're an introvert or a shy person?

Many people, both introverts and extroverts, are traditionally taught to avoid saying “no.” Some of us are told from a young age that we’re not supposed to say “no” to our parents, relatives, teachers, bosses, and others. There may be cultural, gender, social, religious, or institutional pressure to conform and please. Often there’s a fear of rejection, a desire to avoid confrontation, or guilt over hurting others’ feelings.

Although shyness and introversion are different(1), many shy people also feel apprehensive about saying "no", especially in socially difficult situations.

For both introverts and shy people, who are often accustomed to thinking before speaking, there is the additional challenge of feeling pressured to communicate right away, even when you’re not ready. Sometimes, your initial pause (to think things over) may be misunderstood as “silent agreement”, lack of opinion, lack of confidence, or reticence.

Here are some effective ways to say “no” if you’re an introvert or a shy person, with references from my books: “Relationship Communication Success for Introverts” and “Workplace Communication Success for Introverts”.

Leverage Time

Whenever possible, give yourself time to decide. For example, when someone makes a request that you’re not sure about, say:

“Let me think about it.”

“Give me a moment to decide.”

“I’ll get back to you on this.”

“I’ll let you know my answer by (specify time).”

When you take the time you need to make a decision, you’re leveraging many inner strengths: thoughtfulness, reflectiveness, and thoroughness, to help you arrive at a better decision.

Saying “No” Diplomatically

After you have taken time to consider the pros and cons of an issue, if you need to say “no,” but wish to do so diplomatically, utilize effective communication techniques to convey your decision:

For example, if your friend asks to borrow your car, and you’re uncomfortable with the idea, you can either be direct and say “no”, or you can use any of the following, assertive yet diplomatic expressions to draw the line:

“I prefer to be the only one driving my car.”

“I prefer not to lend out my car.”

“It doesn’t work for me to lend out my car.”

“It’s important to me that I keep my car for my own use.”

“Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to lend you my car.”

“I’m uncomfortable with letting others drive my car.”

“I made a promise to myself that I’m not going to let other people borrow my car.”  

All of the examples above are “I” or “it” statements, which are more difficult for the listener to dispute. If someone is persistent in wanting you to do what he or she wants, keep repeating “no” using any combination of the “I” and “it” statements above. Hold your ground until the person realizes that you mean what you say.

In addition, you can utilize the “sandwich” communication method to gently turn down a person. This skill begins with a positive statement, states “no” diplomatically in the middle, and concludes with another positive statement. For example: “I understand you need a car this weekend. Unfortunately, I’m really not comfortable lending my car. Hope you can find another arrangement.”

Preston Ni
Source: Preston Ni

For more tips on effective interpersonal communication for introverts, see my book (click on title): “Relationship Communication Success for Introverts”.

For more tips on effective professional communication for introverts, see my book (click on title): “Workplace Communication Success for Introverts”.

(1) Introverts are typically those who prefer more solitude, quiet, and reflection. Shy individuals are often those who are apprehensive about social critique and rejection.

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