Do you have a hard time saying no? As social beings, we are driven to preserve our relationships and so it can be difficult to let people down even if it is the right thing for you.

When I asked my Twitter followers if they agreed with this statement: “I have a hard time saying no,” 48% of people replied that it was true for them and 52% replied that it wasn’t.

That means that about half of you struggle to say no when people make requests of you that you don’t want to agree to.

As someone who struggles with saying no myself, I decided to learn how to say no without being awkward, damaging relationships, or feeling guilty. Check it out:

Keep these three tactics in mind any time you’re in a situation where you need to say no.

Plan Out Your No’s Ahead of Time

It can be difficult to tell someone no in the moment. If you you struggle to say no because you fear facing people’s disappointment,  ask people to text or email you their request so you can get back to them. You’re a busy person so it’s perfectly reasonable for you to say that you need to check your schedule before answering. Once they send you a follow-up, it is much easier to send them a polite reply saying that you’re unable to agree to their request.

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Don’t Offer an Explanation

Offering an excuse may seem like the polite way to decline a request but it sets you up for an awkward situation. The problem with offering an excuse is it gives people the opportunity to change their request so that your excuse doesn’t justify your no.

Here are some examples:

  • You decline someone’s invitation to go out for coffee because you already have plans on the day they requested…then they ask you what day works best for you.
  • You tell someone you can’t go to a party because you have no one to watch the kids…they offer to let you bring your kids.
  • You apologize for not being able to help someone with a project because you’re working towards a major deadline…they reply that they’d love to have your help once you’re finished with your current project.

No matter what excuse you offer, people who are determined to get you to say yes can come up with a way to invalidate it. By simply thanking people for their request and telling them that you can’t agree to it, you prevent them from arguing with you.

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Do Offer An Alternative

If the person asking you for something is someone who you want to maintain a positive relationship with, you can lessen the impact of your no by offering an alternative that satisfies their want while being something that is more preferable to you.

For example:

  • If someone wants you to collaborate with them on a project, introduce them to someone else who might be interested.
  • Your new friend invites you to a bar but loud places and drinking isn’t your thing. Ask them if they want to grab coffee or do another activity instead.
  • An eager young employee in your office offers to help you with an important project but you fear their involvement would slow down progress. Ask them if they want to work with you on a lower pressure project instead.

The goal is to offer compromise so they don’t take offense to you saying no and you don’t feel guilty for turning down a request that would add unneeded stress to your life.

About Science of People

Our mission is to help you achieve your social and professional goals faster using science-backed, practical advice. Our team curates the best communication, relationship, and social skills research; turning into actionable and relatable life skills. Science of People was founded by Vanessa Van Edwards, bestselling author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma.

3 replies on “How to Say No: 3 Steps for People Pleasers”

  1. R. Z.

    Thank you for the great article. I will definitely use these steps in the future. I am the one who struggles to say no most of the time despite the busy life. Especially love the one Do offer an alternative. I am trying to use it most of the time. It works!

  2. Valerie Cormack

    This was great! Thank you… would you be able to role play saying no? Maybe a few different scenarios?

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