How to Say No

When I stated this blog 18 months ago, some of my early posts were on saying no. However, my posts then were barely a paragraph long at times. Writing the past two posts on criticism, and being unable to properly link to this related skill, I thought it useful to update.

You have a right to say no

Ironically this post coincides with my daughter being asked (and agreeing) to do an extra  shift at the restaurant she works at. The examples below were based around a request to work someones shift when I originally wrote them.

Saying yes when you would rather say no causes YOU stress

Learning to say “no” is an important part of confident communication (or assertiveness).  It is part of recognizing your rights and respecting your needs. One problem with wanting to be liked is you agree to requests from others without looking at your needs.  Over the years I have met many people who would automatically say “yes”, thinking that it would help them make friends and be liked. But, just saying “yes” means you get used and abused.

You only have so many hours in the day – whatever you agree to take on means you are unable to do something else

True friendship is based on recognizing each others needs, not just our own. If saying no to someone makes them angry and stomp off – well what sort of friendship is that?  They will go and find someone else to take advantage of.

If you lack confidence, you tend to avoid the straight no, and offer up excuses – creating more complex and apologetic replies when these are batted back at you. So the first aim is to say no without apologizing.

Don’t get in the habit of telling lies to avoid having to do something

Simple No

The first technique for saying “no”, is by far the simplest – but  not always the easiest!  By just saying “no” and nothing else you may feel rude or aggressive.  But like all the other techniques, circumstances may demand it. And if you remain polite, no offense should be taken. No apologizing, be direct and succinct.

“Can you work tomorrows shift for me”

”No, I cannot.”

“Please, I really need tomorrow off”


“There’s no one else I can ask, I’ll do the same for you anytime”

“No, I’ve made clear I can’t.”

Reasoned No

You can still give a genuine reason, without opening up any discussion as to your availability:-

“No, I’ve got to do some family commitments”

“No, it’s not possible I’m busy”

“No, I don’t want to”.

The main habit to get out of is starting with an apology – “I’m sorry… ” Or “I’m afraid…”

The other person may have a problem, may be very needy – but you don’t have to take it on board or feel it’s your responsibility to meet that need.

Don’t vaguely agree (“I’ll try to be there”) or give an uncommitted response to something you know you don’t want to do.

Broken Record

A useful technique is called “broken record”, where you basically keep repeating the same answer.  If someone is persistent and keeps repeating requests, it’s tempting to keep finding new ways of saying no.  This gradually dilutes your response and makes you bring in excuses and apologies. Again, no explanation – just repeat.

So if at the request from a colleague is to work a shift for them, you reply:-

“No, I can’t work that day” –

“But I really need someone to cover for me”

“No, I can’t work that day” (Broken record)

“I’ve asked everyone else; you’re the only one who can help”

“No, I can’t work that day” (Broken record)

“Why not, you usually can help me out?”

“No, I can’t work that day” (Broken record)

Reflective No

A variation on “broken record” is to add a reflection on what the person has said, before saying no in a firm way.  It shows you are listening to the person, acknowledge what they are saying, empathizing with them, but without being apologetic saying assertively saying no.

So following on the above dialog:-

“But I really need someone to cover for me”

“I know you want to go away, but I can’t work that day” (reflection)

This technique is not about making up excuses and avoiding taking responsibility by deflecting the no onto someone else (”I’m really sorry, I would be happy to help you, but wife is taking me shopping that day and that the only day we can do that.  I’m sorry to let you down, any other time I’m sure I could….”)

Rain Check No

A “rain check no”, says a clear no to the current request but does respond with a positive offer:-

“I can’t work your shift tomorrow as I’m doing something; however I can help out later in the week if that’s any help?”

The bottom line is to only make an offer if you genuinely want to, as you are opening up negotiation. Don’t add a “rain check no” to ease your guilt – stick to the reasoned no above.

When in doubt say no. Its easier to change your mind and say yes later than the other way round.


Responding with a question and asking for information, is another way of stalling whilst clarifying the exact request being made. It’s not giving in, but simply clarifies what is being asked.

“Does it have to be tomorrow, its very short notice?”

“Why ask me, you know I always have an evening class on Wednesdays?”

Again, don’t start apologizing or giving in – like the rain check “no”, this is simply away of clarifying the situation and putting the onus back on the requester. You can also open up the request by throwing in questions of your own

“I cannot work tomorrow, but didn’t you want to discuss how we are going to cover the public holiday?”

When asked by a manager to do something that conflicts with other demands on your time, ask for help in prioritizing. Point out you can’t do everything – at least not to the standard you would give with 100% commitment. Often managers are themselves passing down pressures/demands from their manager – but it shouldn’t mean you have to do the impossible.  if they have a problem saying no, doesn’t mean you should as well.

To make any changes, you need to practice.

This post is about saying no, rather than negotiation. If agreeing to a request does suit you, but you want something from the other person, then learning to negotiate is another skill worth developing. But thats for another post.

Henry September 14, 2008 at 4:15 pm

Very interesting article!

I think many times we dun dare to say no, because we care too much about others’ feeling. And i think you are right, that if we have friends who mind when we said no, perhaps that friendship need some examination.

I think you put forward the different scenarios in a detailed and easily understandable manner.

Thanks for the article,

Henrys last blog post..Barclays Premier League Spotlight – Pivotal Players For Club

Raymond Chua September 14, 2008 at 4:33 pm

There’s no reason why you have to say “Yes” to everyone. In fact, there are often many times when you should turn them down. If you find yourself agreeing to do things when you really don’t want to, you’re a people pleaser. In general, this isn’t a bad trait to have, but it can be a huge stressor.

jackie sheeler September 14, 2008 at 6:13 pm

great post. came at the perfect time for me, too, as i just had to say no to a request for a recommendation. it was definitely good to be reminded that i don’t have to give an excuse: no is no. thanks!

Carol Deckert September 15, 2008 at 4:25 pm

David, this was a great post and very timely. In today’s world, we are all running around, trying to do as much as possible, in as short a period of time as possible. When friends or business acquaintances request our help it seems much easier to just say yes, and figure out later how to make it work, than it is to politely refuse and share a reason for your refusal. Saying yes when you really want to say no causes undue stress and frustration on you – no one else! Do you honestly think that the person requesting your help will no longer be a friend or acquaintance if you say no to their request? As long as it is done in a loving, caring manner, there is nothing at all wrong with saying no. The next time you receive a request like that, evaluate it and decide if you have the proper time to devote to helping solve that problem and if you do, then great – say yes, but if you don’t, tell the person why you don’t and offer to help them in some way at another time.

This is all part of building a relationship and relationships must be give and take. Act professional, respond professionally and it will not matter which way you respond, with either a yes or a no, you will be respected for your response.

Keep up the great discussion David – this is great information.

Happy Netweaving,
Carol Deckert
Netweaving/Networking Coach

Nick Grimshawe September 17, 2008 at 4:47 am

Hi David,

This is a very helpful article for everyone who tends to say yes to avoid conflict. I think it is important to bend, but only on your terms. Don’t lie, is so important. too many people get caught out on this one which only brings embarrassment and guilt later.

Be upfront with the “NO”. Don’t be defensive and don’t feel you need to give more of an explanation than you feel comfortable with.

Great advice.

Thanks for the reminders.


eulogy samples September 17, 2008 at 12:00 pm

This is my second comment I am getting hooked unto this website.

I mean this website has so many relevant topics. I think that in the end all that matters is that we have to be brave and do what we like, say what we like…

Cos in life there is no turning back..

Anjela September 19, 2008 at 8:11 am

There’s no reason why you have to say “Yes” to everyone. In fact, there are often many times when you should turn them down. If you find yourself agreeing to do things when you really don’t want to, you’re a people pleaser. In general, this isn’t a bad trait to have, but it can be a huge stressor.

Anjelas last blog post..Escondido, California

David September 20, 2008 at 9:33 am

Thank you all for your comments. As you have been flagging up – you don’t have to say “yes”. But if you are in the habit of saying yes, trying to say no can be difficult. It does take practice. And as Nick reiterates – don’t lie!

Davids last blog post..How to Say No

Best Man September 26, 2008 at 1:24 pm

Saying no is so hard! And I really cant say no to so many people…. I will try out what you said and see how it goes..

I think it also depend on how people will take it….

Ron Lambert October 16, 2008 at 5:03 am

In teaching boundaries to my clients I have always said that “no” was a complete sentence. I was pleasantly surprised to stumble over a blog that shows so many ways to use that sentence. Good work.

Ron Lamberts last blog post..Sticks and Stones and Ladders Can Break Your Bones

Anomoly November 9, 2008 at 6:20 am

very good post. nice work.

Ron Lambert November 9, 2008 at 7:20 pm

I recently completed the third section in an article about building and maintaining personal boundaries. I enjoyed your article so much that I linked it to the saying NO part to help my readers learn how. As I said before, good work!

Ron Lamberts last blog post..How Reese’s Cups and a Dime Ruined My Life (Part Two of Two)

Carrie May 5, 2009 at 2:53 pm

How about saying no to something that you regret saying yes to? I committed to something that I wish I didn’t – is there a graceful way out of this? Just be honest and say exactly this? That I regret committing and I have to say no?

Nancy May 9, 2009 at 10:08 am

Excellent article.

After I read your article I totally agree that honesty is the best policy. I don’t think I am a people pleaser but often I might send the wrong message because I am very polite. Friendship should be give and take. Don’t expect one person to pay for everything. For instance, I have a friend visiting me from Demark. He stays in my house for a week. I took him to places, shows, dinners, sport events, etc. The first day he’s in town I offer to treat him to a very expensive dinner. After that he either assumes or having the expectations that he stays for a week only so I should catering to his needs. He never offers to pay for anything. After spending $500 for the first two days I finally say “no” to him when he asks me to go to Mall of America, to shop and to have dinner there. I politely tell him that I am “DONE” spending money for the week. I don’t want to go to Mall of American and I will not spend anymore money for foods, entertainments, drinks or shoppings. Being politely is not the same as being easy. Some people just don’t get it. Don’t feel guilty repeating “NO” until they get the message. Some people can push it to the limit. Just walk away from people who are trying to take advantage of you.

David May 10, 2009 at 10:37 am

Carrie – we all make decisions that we later regret. Changing our mind isn’t a major sin. Look at the “bill of rights” on my assertiveness posts. As you say, be honest, apologise once, and state your new decision – giving whatever explanation you deem appropriate. But don’t get into a discussion and dilute your new decision – use broken record to repeat your “no”
Nancy – thanks for your compliments and sharing your experience.

Montana July 22, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Ya, standing your ground on the decision change is paramount, changing your mind once is ok, changing it twice on the same subject is impardonable

Selena January 30, 2010 at 1:29 am

I believe you are right from my point of view. I have a friend her name is Alanh and she asked my to do her work. Ok it took my a minute or two to figure out what to do. She is my best friend and everything but when i say Alanh I really have to get my work done. I did want to hurt her feelings because i am polite and you are suppose to be nice to anyone and everyone. She took it the wrong way and got super angry; she riped the paper cryed and said i wont be your friend if you won't help me. I found myself being a broken record; no i really have to do my work
no i really have to do my work
no i really have to do my work
so i thing you are right and so is this article

Tammy Matthews March 3, 2011 at 4:08 pm

“- but you don’t have to take it on board or feel it’s your responsibility to meet that need.”
This is a big thing for me. I feel like if I don’t help others then I’m not a good person. It’s that do for others mindset. Chances are they’ll never do for me, but in time it will be paid back to me through another source.

{ 8 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: