20 Polite Ways To Say "No"

April 16, 2024
20 Polite Ways To Say "No"

Many people I speak to and coach are feeling more and more overwhelmed. The demands that are placed on us and we place on ourselves seem to be increasing and, with our natural desire to please people, look capable and be liked, it seems that saying "no" is very hard for a lot of us.

People pleasing is such a common trait that it is second only to Impostor Syndrome in the traits I see when coaching and, while it is a very good thing to be nice, do good things, help out and take a "can do" approach, if we overdo our people pleaser trait then it can be very detrimental.

Therefore it is important to develop our ability to say "no"...nicely yet assertively.

I mentioned this in a newsletter some time ago and despite my list of ways to politely decline being somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it got so much traction I thought I would capture it in a blog post for posterity and ease of reference. So here's my starter for 20...please add your own in the comments...

  1. I can definitely get back to you on that one by the end of the week/month.
  2. I could only do that if you could make [this other, bigger task] disappear for me.
  3. I don't have the capacity to do that to the standard that you deserve.
  4. I know the perfect person who would be better suited to that.
  5. If you ask me again in a week/month's time I might be able to help.
  6. You know I'm always happy to help you whenever I can but this just isn't one of those situations...sorry.
  7. I actually would really like to do that and I could do it next month.
  8. I can't do that myself but I will reach out to my network for you and see who else might be available.
  9. That sounds like more than I can handle right now but here's what I could do...
  10. I like you too much/have too much respect for you to try and help you when I know I wouldn't be able to do it properly with all the other commitments I have right now.
  11. I promised my therapist that I wouldn't take on any more work right now!
  12. There's no way I could do as good a job as you on this so what would it take for you to be able to do it yourself?
  13. I have a very clear rule about situations like this; it's not just you. [I never lend more than £20 to friends for example]
  14. I'm afraid I can't do that because I'm gluten/lactose/jerk intolerant. :-)
  15. You know I'm a people-pleaser so you will appreciate how hard it is for me to say no but I really must.
  16. I can't do exactly what you want there but I could do it if [I had twice as long/the scope was reduced/...]
  17. If asking for my help was illegal, what other options would you have?
  18. That actually sounds much more fun that what I'm currently doing but I promised myself that I won't be someone who breaks their commitments.
  19. I would need a day to look at my commitments and schedule before I could commit to that. I will get back to you in 24 hours to tell you if it's possible.
  20. Let me ask [senior person/wife/husband/kids] if they are happy for me to drop what I'm doing to do this instead.

An alternative to "no" (and you might notice this a few times in the list above) is "Yes, if..."

Responding with "Yes, if..." can appear more positive, collaborative and less confrontational. That doesn't necessarily make it better though. By opening yourself up to negotiation, there is still a good chance that you will take on more and more (and people may then start playing negotiation games!) so make sure the "if..." is enough.

Maybe you could let me know if one of these helps you...or you could just tell me "no"...

If you find yourself too much of a people-pleaser, why not get some 1:1 coaching and increase your effectiveness without damaging relationships?

You might also find Martin Lambert's blog post on Commitment to be an interesting read

Download this as a PDF


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