5 Nice but Firm Ways to Say “No,” Because You Can't Be Everywhere at Once

how to say no cat

Saying “no” is hard to do. In a perfect world we’d be able to lend a helping hand to anyone who asked, but in reality, work, family and other obligations mean that saying no is a necessary evil. According to a paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research, saying no to everything from daily distractions to after-work plans can help you achieve goals faster and grant yourself the space and recovery time you need. Still, it can be uncomfortable to turn someone down—especially if you have people pleaser tendencies. Here are five tips for saying “no,” because it’s normal—and important—to do so sometimes.

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1. Explain Your Reasoning

Now, when it comes to saying no to any types of request, you don’t owe anyone anything. But explaining why you’re saying no can be a great way to provide some context for the person asking for your time, energy or resources. Let’s say your college friend invites you to join her virtual book club. While it’s perfectly fine to simply say, “Thanks so much for asking, but I can’t,” saying, “Thanks so much for asking, but I’m actually already in a book club with my colleagues and I can’t take on another.” This way they know it’s not personal—you have a perfectly valid reason for declining the invite.

2. Don’t Beat Around the Bush

Saying no can be uncomfortable, and oftentimes when we’re uncomfortable we start to talk in circles without getting to the point. But the thing is, sidestepping the issue drags everything out in a frustrating and unnecessary way. Plus, we’re willing to bet the person you’re saying no to will appreciate frank honesty more than vague comments and procrastination.

3. Delegate the Ask to Someone Else

We’re not advocating throwing someone else under the bus but suggesting someone else who can get the job done after saying you’re not able to is a great way to show the person that you do want to help in one way or another. If you don’t want to mention someone else by name, you can even say something like, “You know, I’m not able to take that on at this point, but someone on my team might. Let me check in with them and get back to you.”

4. Meet Them Halfway

Compromise, people. Especially when the ask is coming from someone you love and/or respect, it can be hard to say no flat out. Instead of shutting the person down, meet them in the middle. For example, if your sister invites you to a virtual happy hour and game night, try telling her, “Well, I can’t stay for the game part, but I can hop onto the Zoom for one glass of wine.” Chances are they’ll appreciate the effort you’re putting in to be compromise despite your busy schedule.

5. Be a Little Selfish

Yes, it’s nice to help others, but folks who struggle to say no often find themselves overbooked and overwhelmed. It’s OK to prioritize your own time and sanity by turning down a request. An important part of self-care is knowing your own boundaries and respecting them. If you’re constantly saying yes to people because you’re too uncomfortable to say no, not only might your work suffer but you could also end up resenting the people asking for your help. Self-preservation is key.

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sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...