A Dozen Ways to Say ‘No’
It’s OK to say “no” without burning bridges.
Reviewed on March 8, 2019
Saying no to a request from someone you like, love, admire or hate-to-disappoint is difficult. Perhaps that person really needs help. Perhaps they’ve always depended on you for support. Maybe it’s your turn to buy lunch.
But there’s hardly time to breathe in your schedule and your ADHD has pushed you behind again. You’re weary of the role of ‘savior friend’ when things go awry in others’ lives. So how can you be honest without destroying a friendship or burning business bridges?
When I trained as a life coach, I learned that coaches often make requests of their clients, e.g. “Would you be willing to exercise three times this week from 5 – 6 pm?” I also learned that the client was encouraged to choose one of three possible answers:
“Yes, I am willing to do that.”
“No, I am not willing to do that.”
“No, I am not willing to do that, but I am willing to do something different (e.g. exercise twice this week at 4 pm).”
All three answers are considered equally valid. There is no shame in declining a request. In fact, it is celebrated, because it means the client has made a conscious decision by thinking through the options.
In the real world, the word “No” is received less enthusiastically, so it makes sense to tiptoe lightly when you decline a request. Here are a dozen ways to politely and firmly answer in the negative instead of the affirmative:
1. “Thanks so much for asking. Unfortunately, I have a full schedule that day (or week or month).”
2. “Oh, that sounds like a great opportunity for you! I’ll be thinking about you while I (drive to Atlanta) that day.”
3. “I’m afraid I’ve said ‘yes’ to too many things and now I am forced to say ‘no’ to you. Darn!”
4. “I’d love to participate, but (registering guests) just isn’t my strong suit. Maybe there’s another opening?” or “Maybe next year?”
5. “Oh, darn! I wish you’d mentioned this earlier! I just made another appointment for that day. Do you have the date of next year’s event? With enough advance notice, I might be able to help.”
6. “You know, I have made a firm decision to spend more time with my family in the evenings, so I’m not available for night meetings.”
7. “Right now, I am (chairing two other committees) and I simply won’t be able to give your project the time it deserves.”
8. “I’ll check my calendar but I doubt that it will work for me. This year/month/week is absolutely slammed!”
9. “You know me and my ADHD! I procrastinated on a couple of big projects that are due in the next two weeks and now I have no choice but to focus only on them.”
10. “I am practicing Extreme Self Care by saying ‘no’ to everything except what I love to do most: (e.g. dancing, football and my dogs).”
11. “I just read an article on the internet that said saying ‘no’ was a perfectly legitimate answer to requests, so I’m trying it out on you: NO!”
12. I am honored that you believe in me so deeply but there are other people in the world who are far better at (editing your poem, taking care of your cat, running the Fun Fair).”
See how easy that was? What’s your most creative way to say “No” without burning bridges?