5 Tips for Saying No Gracefully

Saying No nicely and firmly is a lifeskill of enormous value.

Posted Oct 17, 2014

There is “No Thank you” and then there is “I said No!” How you say no to someone will certainly be determined by the situation and the person hearing it. In refusing a second helping of some less than delicious food a simple “No thank you” delivered with a smile is sufficient. If some goon is bothering you at a bar a far more forceful statement, certainly without the smile, is what’s called for.

There are many other circumstances in between where you want to let whomever is petitioning you know that you are refusing but you don’t want to insult him or her, neither do you want to be coaxed into giving in out of exasperation.

A criticism I have heard many times, particularly of women, is that the person refusing doesn’t sound like she means it. She’s smiling in a way that appears flirtatious or her inflection sounds more like a question than a declaration. (If you’re familiar with California “upspeak” you know what I mean.) That sounds like the person speaking is unsure of her or his position and seems to beg the asker to just try harder and the request will be granted. The last thing you want is to encourage is pestering.

So let us assume that you are saying no to someone who wants something from you – anything from a date to asking you to serve on a committee, a donation to a cause, or an invitation to an event you want to miss. The people asking have got to hear that no means no and not maybe but you don’t necessarily want them to go away angry at you for refusing. Disappointment can’t be helped. Everybody wants what they want. The situation here is that something is wanted from you and you are not willing to give it. So, some tips on refusing without seeming like an ogre:

1. Say what you have to say with a pleasant expression on your face. If you can summon “rueful” all the better. If you are being asked over the phone try to put that rueful expression into your voice.

2. If appropriate to you and the person asking, a friendly touch like a hand on the arm will soften the rejection. If you are not a person who is used to touching others casually this might be a good time for you to try it out. It really does make hearing “no” easier.

3. Offer no excuses or explanations. “I’m so sorry but I can’t” is all that’s necessary. If the other person is rude enough to persist or ask for reasons, just repeat what you said.

4. If you don’t want to be asked again in the future stifle the urge to add “Not just now” or “Perhaps some other time.”

5. Wishing the other person well, which also softens a refusal, is nice to do. “I hope you find someone to take over that job” or “Have a lovely event” or some such is gracious without in any way backing off your refusal.

Being able to say no is a learnable skill. It gets easier the more you practice it and it is one of the most useful skills a person can acquire. Now, aren’t you eager for the opportunity to use it?