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No one likes to be rude, ungracious or mean, which is why so many of us end up saying “yes” to things when what we’re really thinking is “no.” Whether it’s a personal task between friends that puts you in a tough position, or an ask from a boss that lands way beyond your job description, saying no isn’t always easy, but it is possible.
Give Yourself Time to Think
Unless it’s an emergency, there’s no rule that dictates an immediate response. In fact, putting a little space between the request and your answer not only keeps you from responding with a knee-jerk “yes” you’ll regret later, it also shows the person that you need time to consider it. So when you do come back with a “no,” pushback is far less likely.
Swap a 'No, I Can’t,' for 'It Won’t Work for Me'
Saying, “I can’t” may cause you to squirm because you probably could, but don’t want to. Instead, say, “It won’t work for me.” If asked why, you can respond, “It just won’t.” If you wish, feel free to add, “But here’s what will work.”
For example, if someone asks you to come in on a holiday, or bring their kid back to your house after school, the “no” can be delivered in the form of a consolation prize. In the work scenario, try saying, “Unfortunately, that won’t work for me, but if you need a hand when I get back I’m happy to help.” In the personal one, try “Unfortunately, that won’t work for me, but we can schedule a playdate another time.”
Move Away From 'Yes' or 'No'
They say: “Want to come to office drinks tonight? I know you just got off of a cross-country flight, but what you need is a cocktail — you have to come!”
Avoiding a binary response of either “yes” or “no” allows you to have more agency over the choice you’re making for yourself. “I’m not up for it, but thanks for thinking of me,” delivers your “no” in a way that takes changing your mind off the table.
Don't Make White Lies
For some, saying no is really hard, and for others, hearing it as a response is even harder. Welcome to the social evolution of the white lie, wherein saying no has to be followed by “... because I have an appointment,” or “... I don’t feel well,” when in fact the truth is you just don’t want to do what’s being asked.
White lies can pile up or backfire entirely, so cutting them from your life for those reasons alone is best in the long run. But specifically taking them off the table when you’re responding to an ask also helps you to get in the habit of saying no freely.
'No' can be a complete sentence
Excuses and lengthy explanations are not always necessary. If your friend asks whether you’d like to go spinning together, it’s OK to simply say no, and move on. If a boss asks if you can deliver a birthday gift to his mom (and this is not your job), you can politely say no.
Being firm but pleasant are great characteristics that aren’t negated by saying “no” when you need to.