How to Say No Politely to People and Not Upset Them

Saying no need not be as hard as you think

Bridget Webber
Apr 2 · 6 min read

Sometimes, you’re asked to do things you prefer not to do. People can be demanding. They have one-track minds: They want your attention, time, or something else from you. But you’re busy, overstretched, or want to do something else like relax.

Awareness about these factors will help you to say no

•What it’s like when you don’t know how to say no

•Times when it’s smart to say no

•Why you don’t say no

•How to increase your confidence to say no

•Recognize whether a relationship is valuable

•Setting boundaries

•How to say no politely

•How to say no to demanding people

What it’s like when you don’t know how to say no

If your sense of self is healthy, and you’re confident, you don’t find it hard to turn down requests. When you have low self-esteem, and lack confidence, you might agree to demands and appeals, while inside your stomach churns.

You feel like you let yourself down somehow. Part of you makes sure you recognize saying no would be to your advantage. Your guts start to twist and ignite fight or flight. And stress grows as you contemplate how to reply to requests.

You know you are not being true to yourself, yet; you don’t want to upset the recipient of an anticipated yes and risk rejection. You might want to avoid looking unkind, so much that you feel you can’t say no, even when it would be in your best interest. You need to know how to say no politely. If you can do that, life will be easier.

Times when it’s smart to say no

1. It’s fine to say no when you feel too uncomfortable to do what people ask of you. If what they request takes you out of your comfort zone (and you don’t feel happy to proceed) it’s okay to decline.

2. You might be tired or need time to yourself, and that’s fine too. Just because you have free time doesn’t mean you must give it up to please other people if it means you can’t meet your needs.

3. People may want to take advantage of you sometimes. They could want you to give them things, like money, when it doesn’t feel right to you. It’s fine to tell them no.

4. There’s nothing wrong with making the decision you don’t want to do something. As long as the request isn’t to fulfill one of your responsibilities, you need not feel obliged to say yes.

Why you don’t say no

Most people who don’t know how to say no want to be liked. Of course, we all enjoy being liked: It’s preferable to the opposite. But with positive self-regard, you will recognize your needs, and if to meet them you say no to an invitation to do someone’s bidding, so be it.

When you have low self-esteem, to say no feels downright uncomfortable. You would prefer the ground to swallow you so you can wheedle out of the conversation. Your predicament is difficult because you feel you can’t win.

On the one hand, if you say no, you might upset someone and feel guilty. If you say yes, you’ll upset yourself and feel stressed.

How to increase your confidence to say no

One way to increase confidence so you can say no more easily is to note you never lose true friends by politely turning down their requests.

True friends or family who love you won’t reject you. They understand you will give them your time and attention in appropriate measures.

Sure, they might feel disappointed. But they’ll overcome their discomfort and find other ways to meet their goals.

People who don’t care a hoot about you, on the other hand, might be offended and turn up their noses when you tell them you can’t say yes. But if that happens, you’ve got nothing to lose by saying no because the relationship isn’t good for you, anyway. Remembering this will help you to say no.

Recognize whether a relationship is valuable

If you feel an emotional wobble when you don’t know how to say no, remember your discomfort is based on fear of losing something you haven’t got.

When people don’t accept your needs, you may be wise to have second-thoughts about the usefulness of your relationship. How much support do you get from it? The answer may be revealing.

People who offer support to others (sometimes referred to as people-pleasers) don’t always get much support in return. Most worthwhile relationships are based on give and take. Sometimes you’ll give more if the recipient needs help through a crisis or some other difficulty. But they will offer you support when you need it too.

Set boundaries

Set personal boundaries and saying no will get easier. One boundary might be not to do anything that goes against your moral values, for instance. Another may be to honor your needs, like the need to relax, have fun, spend time alone when you want, or respect your intuition.

It’s safe to be you and act according to your needs and wishes. Once you practice saying no, your mental strength to repeat the process will grow. You’ll feel empowered when you work toward your greatest good by saying no. Your inner being wants you to succeed and your discomfort will vanish.

Also, when you learn how to say no, you’ll find saying yes when you want to do something for someone satisfying. Knowing you are discerning will mean you support worthy causes and genuinely assist the people who need your help most.

How to say no politely

There are polite ways to say no and impolite ones. Saying no politely is always preferable to using the former, even if you dislike someone. Being polite will mean you avoid conflict. The recipient of no isn’t likely to argue or plead with your decision if you are firm and have good manners.

3 Polite ways to say no

1. Be honest

It’s tempting to tell white lies (untruths that aim to soften the blow or get you off the hook) when you don’t know how to say no. But it’s best to be honest. One lie begets another, and you want to end the conversation rather than open it to scrutiny. Plus, it’s polite to be honest and let people know where they stand.

You can tell people you were hoping to watch a movie, finish reading your book, or have an early night if that’s the truth. There’s no shame in wanting to do something other than what’s asked of you.

2. Negotiate

If you want to help someone, but can’t because you have other responsibilities, negotiate. Let them know you can help them on a different day or are willing to help them in another useful way. People will understand if you’re too busy to do exactly what they want on their terms.

3. Be modest

People may ask you to do something that’s too much of a stretch for you. In which case, it’s okay to mention you don’t want to do it because another person will be a better fit for the task. If you feel too inexperienced to handle the job, say so. Don’t offer to do it. You won’t upset anyone. They’ll be glad you were upfront about it.

How to say no to demanding people

Once in a while you may meet demanding people who don’t want to take no for an answer. You have just as much right to turn them down as they have to make a request, so don’t be shy. On such an occasion, keep your reply short. “No. I don’t think so” will do, or “I’d rather not.”

It’s not unkind or rude to say no. Never forget you are as important as people who make requests. Stand your ground, but be polite and you won’t feel guilty because no one will be upset.

The Bolt-Hole

Self-improvement, stories, and poems

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