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The Art of ‘No’: How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

BY Sandy Lindsey TIMEJune 24, 2022 PRINT

You’re not alone when it comes to finding it hard to say no. However, learning to use this simple two-letter word more will reduce stress, save you valuable time, and improve your overall quality of life.

Firm No

Saying no is much easier when you get the other person on your side. Thank them for thinking of you and tell them how much you appreciate their kind offer. No one likes being turned down, even when they’re trying to offload some of their work onto your desk. Once you’ve set a positive tone, be clear and honest about why you are turning them down. If you feel the need, explain that you’re sorry you can’t help and, if you can think of them, suggest alternative options. You may feel guilty or uncomfortable, but don’t let that make you say yes.

Get a Raincheck

There are times when you’d genuinely like to help, but simply don’t have the time, energy, or financial resources to do so. In these situations, make it clear that you would like to help at a later time, leaving that door open. “No, not right now” and “Yes, but not right now” are crisp and concise. This builds goodwill between yourself and the other party. At work, “I’m swamped right now, I would like to but I can’t,” will do. Adding that the task you’re working on is urgent should help discourage further discourse.

Buy Time

As a last-ditch effort, if you find yourself unable to say no, for any reason ranging from being caught off guard to needing more time to think up an acceptable excuse, buy yourself some time. Neutral postponements such as “Let me think about it” or “Let me get back to you” will work nicely. Whatever you do, don’t get pressured into saying yes now, and don’t get into a discussion about why you need more time. Use this buffer to regroup so you can give a straightforward and honest no.

Keep It Simple

Avoid the temptation to over-explain. It’s human nature to give details in proportion to how awkward one feels. We all want people to like us and think of us as capable and helpful. Excessively justifying your decision provides a great opportunity for the other party to make their case and change your mind. It will also make it harder to say no next time. In effect, you are asking for validation of your saying no from the person making the request. Keep your reasons short and sweet, or go with, “Thanks, but I’m so swamped I have to pass” or “Sorry, I can’t today.”

Undoing Yes

At some point in life, we all have to back out of a commitment caused by a knee-jerk yes. Learning how to bow out gracefully is an essential skill. First of all, let the other party know as soon as possible. Start the conversation by acknowledging that you did commit to the request, which leads into an explanation as to why you find yourself unable to fulfill the agreement and need to cancel. If you can, offer a solution or find someone who can replace you. You may get some negative feedback; take it on the chin. It’s not the end of the world. It is, however, a good lesson in saying no from the get-go next time.

Sandy Lindsey is an award-winning writer who covers home, gardening, DIY projects, pets, and boating. She has two books with McGraw-Hill.
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