How to Say No (Without Feeling Like a Jerk)

Saying no is hard, but it’s absolutely essential to your physical health, your emotional wellbeing, and your ability to achieve the things you want in life.

Here are three major benefits you’ll enjoy when you learn how to say no:

Better Performance

Want to accomplish more at work? Or be a better spouse, parent, and friend? Saying no can actually help you perform better in every aspect of your life.

It makes sense when you think about it. When you learn how to say no, you’ll take on fewer responsibilities, which means you’ll be able to focus more of your attention on the things that really matter. When this happens, your performance will naturally improve.

Stronger Relationships

People struggle to say no because they’re afraid it will damage their relationships.

They don’t want to let their friends, family, and colleagues down. So they take on every project and accept every invitation that comes their way — even if they know it will have a negative impact on their wellbeing. (We’ll talk a bit more about this in the next section.)

Here’s the truth: saying no will establish clear boundaries in your relationships, which will make them stronger because it will create mutual respect.

Less Likelihood of Burnout

According to a Deloitte survey, 77% of full-time professionals in the United States have experienced burnout. It’s a real problem that only seems to be growing.

There are a bunch of different reasons for this. One of them is the fact that most of us are terrible at saying no. Because of this, we take on too many projects, push ourselves to the brink, and then fizzle out. The result? Everything in our lives suffers.

Fortunately, saying no can help prevent burnout. By minimizing your responsibilities, you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed and will enjoy your work more.

Why is it so Hard to Say No?

Saying no is really hard for some people. This is why…

Despite the benefits listed above, many of us have a hard time saying no. Why is that?

For some of us, it has to do with the way we were brought up. As kids, we’re told to listen to our parents and obey their commands — with good reason. If we didn’t do these things, we would have eaten too much candy, never done our homework, etc.

But some people have a hard time breaking away from this mentality — especially if they faced harsh punishment for ignoring their elders.

Other people are afraid to let their family, friends, and colleagues down. They refuse to say no because they don’t want to disappoint the people in their social circle and create conflict.

Whatever your reason is, you need to overcome it. Once you learn how to say no, you’ll enjoy all of the benefits listed in the previous section, namely better performance, stronger relationships, and less likelihood of burnout.

In the next section, we’ll share tips to help you feel more comfortable saying no.

How to Say No: 5 Tips to Help

Learning how to say no isn’t easy, but it’s important. Here are five tips to help you:

1. Practice

Saying no is like anything else — the more you do it, the easier it will become. So, the next time someone asks you to do something that you can’t or don’t want to do, simply decline.

Don’t worry, you can decline in a nice, respectful way. Here are seven ideas:

  • Sorry, I already have something going on.
  • Unfortunately, I have another commitment.
  • I really wish I could. Maybe next time!
  • I just don’t have the bandwidth for that right now.
  • Thanks for asking, but I can’t make it.
  • No, thank you, but it sounds amazing!
  • I’m honored you thought of me, but it won’t work out.

Each of these ideas are respectful ways to say no. Use one of them to decline a project, invitation, etc. without feeling like a jerk in the process.

2. Express Gratitude

Expressing gratitude can make it easier to say no.

As mentioned earlier, it’s often hard to say no because we’re afraid of damaging our relationships. We shouldn’t fear this, especially if we express gratitude while declining.

You can say something like, “Thanks so much for asking me! Unfortunately, I can’t make it this time, but I’d love to attend something like that in the future.” Or, “Wow, I’m really honored you asked me! I don’t have the bandwidth for that right now, but if the opportunity ever presents itself again, I’d love to be considered.”

Don’t just say no. Thank the person you’re talking to so that they know how much you appreciate their offer. This will make you feel less guilty.

3. Don’t Beat Around the Bush

You’ll probably be tempted to provide a long-winded explanation when you say no. Don’t! This won’t make things easier; it will just confuse the person you’re talking to.

Instead, keep your answers simple and straightforward. (Take another look at the section of this article titled “Practice” for examples of simple, straightforward ways to say no.”)

Just remember, “simple and straightforward” doesn’t mean “rude.” You can decline in a clear and direct way without being a jerk if you express gratitude in your response.

4. Set Boundaries For Yourself

Set boundaries for yourself to make it easier to say no.

It’s much easier to say no when you’ve set boundaries for yourself.

If you have kids, for example, you probably spend time with them on the weekends. So, when someone asks you to do something on Saturday, you can simply say, “Sorry, weekends are my family time. Thanks for the offer, though. I appreciate it!”

What are you not willing to do? Take a few minutes to brainstorm boundaries. That way, when someone breaches them, intentionally or not, you’ll know exactly what to do.

5. Recognize Manipulative Tactics

Finally, realize that some people use manipulation to get what they want.

A salesperson, for instance, might say, “We offer three different payment plans. Which one would you like to sign up for?” before their prospect has even agreed to buy the product. This puts pressure on the prospect and makes them feel like they have to say yes.

Don’t fall for these kinds of tactics! Recognize when people try to manipulate you. Doing so will put you one step closer to learning how to say no.

Just Say No

We won’t lie, saying no is hard. Especially if you are running a business and saying no to a customer.

But once you learn how to do it, your physical and emotional wellbeing will improve. You’ll have more time to focus on critical tasks, too, which will help you live a more meaningful life.

To learn how to say no effectively, implement the five tips I talk about in this article: practice, express gratitude, don’t beat around the bush, set boundaries for yourself, and recognize manipulative tactics. If you do those things, saying no will get easier. Good luck!

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Joe Martin

Joe Martin

Dad, Husband, and reformed ski bum. VP of Content and Digital Scorpion, Former CMO of CloudApp and Marketing Lead for Adobe.