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6 Effective Tips to Politely Say No (that actually work!)

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Do you find it hard to say “no”? You’re not alone.

In an experiment1 conducted by the University of Waterloo, individuals were asked to do something that went against their morals, such as damaging a library book. Even though they didn’t agree with the task, about half of them ended up doing it anyway.

This interesting study highlights a common challenge many people face: finding it hard to say “no,” even when something feels wrong.

Watch our video below to learn how to say no:

Why Is It So Hard to Say No?

Saying no is often challenging due to our innate drive to cooperate with others. Our genetics, forged from a millennia of evolution, inclines us to prioritize others’ needs—even before our own. The desire for social acceptance and fear of causing disappointment or conflict further urge us to agree, even when it’s against our best interests.

Let’s dive more into the why of how saying “no” can feel like quite the challenge.

  1. We’re Programmed to Play Nice

Humans are social animals2; we’re hardwired to cooperate. Turning someone down? That’s like a glitch in the system, going against our instinct to keep the peace.

  1. Everyone Wants to Be Liked

Admit it—we all crave that warm, fuzzy feeling of being accepted. Whether it’s self-esteem or our childhood experiences being a yes-kid, saying yes is often our golden ticket to fitting in.

  1. Nobody Wants to Be “That” Person

Ever felt like you’ve twisted your own arm into saying yes? You’re not alone. Sometimes we say yes simply because we can’t bear to see that disappointed look in someone’s eyes. We all know rejection stings, and we’d rather dance around a ‘no’ than dish one out.

  1. Standing Up for Ourselves? Easier Said Than Done

We’re taught to follow the rules, be polite, and keep the boat steady. But where’s the line? The difficulty in saying no lies in navigating these deeply embedded social norms without losing our ability to stand up for what we truly believe in.

Why It’s Important to Say No (Properly)

As we learned earlier, many of us have a hard time saying no in part because it’s evolutionarily ingrained in us. But just because something is the way it is, doesn’t mean it ought to be.

Don’t take it from me, though.

Steve Jobs3 once said:

A graphic made by Science of People of a quote by Steve Jobs that says: I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things. This relates to the article which is about how to say no.

But you don’t have to be the CEO of Apple to harness the power of no.

Here’s why you should say no:

  • Saying no frees up time for yourself. Let’s face it: there’s only so much you can cram into 24 hours. Whether you’re hustling toward your next big thing or just need to kick back and relax, constantly saying yes to others doesn’t leave much “me time.”
  • Saying no teaches you to step out of your comfort zone. Think of saying no as the equivalent of taking a cold shower or making a toast at a party unprepared. It’s a thrill, it’s uncomfortable, but oh boy, does it build character! Saying no is like flexing a muscle —the more you do it, the stronger you become, and the more you get comfortable being out of your comfort zone.
  • Saying no teaches you how to be assertive. Whether you’re at work, school, or just hanging out, being assertive puts you in the driver’s seat. Consider saying no your training wheels for being more assertive.
  • Saying no isn’t as bad as you think. Worried about ruffling feathers? Trust me, most of the reasons that make saying no seem scary are all in your head. Most people get it; rejection happens. Heck, it might even earn you a respectful nod, especially if you’ve been the “yes person” for too long.
  • Saying no helps you maintain integrity. Saying no allows you to align your actions with your core values. If something doesn’t fit your schedule or clashes with your beliefs, a respectful “no” keeps you true to yourself.
  • Saying no can actually strengthen relationships. Sounds weird, right? But honesty truly is the best policy. Constantly saying yes might please people in the short term, but if you’re overcommitting and under-delivering, that’s a fast track to letdown city.

15 Best Ways to Say No

Whether it’s declining an invitation or turning down a request for help, how you say “no” can make all the difference in preserving relationships and conveying your message respectfully. Below are 20 carefully curated ways to say “no” that are suitable for various situations.

  1. “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’ll have to pass.” (Friendly and non-committal.)
  2. “I wish I could, but it’s not possible for me right now.” (Expresses desire but clear inability.)
  3. “I’m on a strict diet of “no” this week.” (Funny and assertive, a solid “no” that’s served with a smile.)
  4. “I’ll need to check my schedule; can I get back to you?” (Buys time for consideration.)
  5. “I can’t, but I know someone who might be interested.” (Provides an alternative.)
  6. “I’m not comfortable with that, but I appreciate the offer.” (Honest and polite.)
  7. “I can’t commit to that right now, but I’ll think about it.” (Non-committal but not entirely closed off.)
  8. “I’m committed to another project with a tight deadline. Perhaps next time?” (Specific and leaves future opportunities open.)
  9. “I’m already committed to an exciting evening of laundry folding.” (Show that your priorities might be elsewhere, but with a wink.)
  10. “I would love to help, but I’ve already committed to something else during that time frame.” (Respectful and specific.)
  11. “I’m flattered, but I have a standing appointment with my gym’s treadmill.” (Stress your commitment to personal health and well-being.)
  12. “I have to take a rain check, but let’s plan something soon.” (Promising future engagement.)
  13. “I’ve got a full plate right now, but thank you for considering me.” (Appreciative refusal.)
  14. “I’m trying to cut back on ___, so I’ll have to decline.” (Provides a personal reason.)
  15. “I’d love to help, but I’m already spread pretty thin at the moment.” (Explains without over-explaining.)

You don’t always have to give a reason when you say no to something. Sometimes, just saying “no” is enough, and it can actually show that you’re confident in your decision. If you feel pressured to explain yourself, remember that it’s OK to keep things simple.

6 Tips to Help You Say No

Sometimes, a simple phrase might not be appropriate. Here are some tips to make that “no” feel more effortless in a situation.

Switch Out “No” for “Later”

If you’re just starting out, you don’t have to jump straight to no. Saying no can be tough.

But saying later? Much easier.

Make your default response to any request, “Let me get back to you.”

Here are a few pocket phrases you can use to extend your no:

  • “Let me check my schedule and get back to you later.”
  • “I’ll have to ask my spouse if we have anything going on later.”
  • “Nice suggestion! Let me think about that first, and I’ll get back to you.”
  • “Great, let me see if I’ve got to pick up my kid from school that day.”

If you’re at work, ask people to text or email you their request so you can get back to them.. 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.

Or if you’re asked to pick up a friend’s cousin’s niece from the airport, tell them you’re busy—but maybe offer them a schedule of when you’re free later.

Pro Tip: Don’t rely on your laters forever. And try not to lie. Once your laters are used up, saying later again can just cause you to seem untrustworthy in the long run.

And if you’re having a hard time at work, check out this resource to increase your skills:

How to Deal With Difficult People At Work

Do you have a difficult boss? Colleague? Client? Learn how to transform your difficult relationship.

I’ll show you my science-based approach to building a strong, productive relationship with even the most difficult people.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Rehearse Your No

Unfortunately, you might not always have the luxury of saying no to someone over text or email at your own convenience.

Sometimes, these invites or requests happen spontaneously and in person, requiring an answer immediately. To prepare for these situations, it’s useful to practice saying “no” beforehand:

  • If you’re afraid of coming off as robotic or unnatural, it helps to rehearse your favorite “no” lines in front of a mirror.
  • If you can, get a friend or family member to do some fun role-playing with you
  • Try finding ways to politely say “no” in different ways to strangers—cashiers, waiters/waitresses, etc.
  • Practice silence. Before immediately responding, try thinking of your answer for a few good seconds. This’ll make you seem more sure of yourself and less rushed to please.

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.

Here are a few 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 toward 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—and WILL—come up with a way to reel you in.

But the solution doesn’t require an entire fisherman’s tool kit to score. In fact, I want you to be more like a nimble spearfisher instead.

Here’s what to do in 3 steps:

  1. Thank them for the offer.
  2. Tell them you can’t agree.
  3. Offer no explanation.

Realize you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

Of course, being blunt with your no doesn’t mean being rude. Even if you don’t offer an explanation, you can still soften the blow by being polite and appreciative.

For example, instead of a curt, “No, I can’t do that,” you could say, “I’m really sorry, but I just don’t have the bandwidth to take this on. I appreciate that you thought of me and best of luck!”

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.

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 aren’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 a 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.


Use “No” Body Language

Does your body say yes or no?

Depending on what you look like, your body can give away immediate answers even before you speak.

After all, according to Darioly and Mast4, about 65 to 90% of our communication is nonverbal.

So even before you open your mouth to say no, try saying no with your body:

  • Turn your torso away. Imagine someone you really dislike is trying to hug you—and this would be exactly the thing you’d want to do. Turn your torso so you’re not facing them. Whatever you do, use your body to signal no!
  • Cross your arms. To further cut off communication, close off your chest by crossing your arms. This is a naturally defensive and unfriendly posture we take when we feel “guarded.”
  • Point your toes away. Notice a pattern? Our feet tend to point toward where we want to go—so point them away to signal your interests lie elsewhere.

Once you signal no with your body, your potential asker may get the message nonverbally. If not, your body will make it a lot easier for you to say no too.

And if you want to read up more on how you can close up your body language, read on! 16 Essential Body Language Examples and Their Meanings

Slay the Procrastination Dragon

A large part of why it’s hard to say no is likely because you’re a big procrastinator.

Or you get distracted with things that don’t fulfill your true purpose.

Why? Because if you have a hard time saying no to others, you likely have a hard time saying no to yourself:

  • Should I go out and spend all day with my friends, when I should really be studying? Sure!
  • Should I eat this whole pint of ice cream, even though I’m super full? Why not?
  • Should I delay this project, even though it’s due tomorrow? It won’t hurt much!

Can you relate to giving into these time wasters?

You see, the Procrastination Dragon is a fearsome monster that thrives on wasting time—and the only way to stop it is to slay it with your sword… and that sword is named NO.

So here’s a fun exercise to do:

  • Every night before you go to bed, name 3 time wasters you wanted and gave in to that day. Take a look in the mirror and say these things. Here’s one of mine: “I want to spend my lunch break watching funny YouTube videos instead of preparing for my upcoming meeting.”
  • Now, after you say these things, tell yourself NO.
  • Repeat this as many times as you need to be effective.

By telling yourself no, you condition yourself to accept no as part of your reality—and saying no to others becomes that much easier.

Bonus Tip #7: Ask vs. Guess Culture

A graphic from Science of People which gives an example of the "Ask Vs. Guess Culture". The left side is ask culture, where askers are more direct and tend to ask yes/no questions. The right side is guess culture, where guess tend to rely on subtle cues to get their answers. This relates to the article which is about how to say no.

Have you ever heard of “ask vs. guess culture”?

What is the ask vs. guess culture?

The “ask vs. guess culture” is a term that describes two different ways that cultures or people use to interact with one another. In the ask culture, people are typically described as direct and more open to bluntly asking yes or no questions. In the guess culture, individuals rely more on subtle context clues and shy away from being so direct.

People who lean toward the ask culture typically face more rejection and disappointment since they always ask questions, instead of “guessing” what the other person thinks.

For example, if they don’t clearly understand a procedure, they may ask for further clarification from the supervisor, instead of relying on their “gut feeling.”

Askers are naturally better at saying no than guessers. Since they ask so many yes/no questions themselves, they’re much more used to hearing no and moving on.

People in the guess culture, however, tend to shy away from the verbal no, since they rely on nonverbal cues much more.

If you tend to have a hard time saying no, it’s likely you belong in the guess culture.

Here are a few examples of how an asker and guesser might interact:

Two Askers:

  • A: “Hey, can you finish the video edits by tomorrow?”
  • A: “No, I don’t think that’s possible. I’ve got too many tasks lined up.”

When two askers converse, they’re direct. They don’t leave any room for guessing because they answer with yeses and nos and expect a yes or no answer in return.

Asker to a Guesser:

  • A: “Hey, can you finish the video edits by tomorrow?”
  • G: “Uhh, can’t you see I’m a bit loaded here? Don’t you know how many tasks I’ve got lined up?”
  • A: “Sorry! I just wanted a straight yes or no answer.”

When an asker converses with a guesser, there might be more room for miscommunication. The guesser might feel offended that the asker is so blunt or unaware of context clues.

And, the asker might be wondering why the guesser can’t give them a straight answer or thinking that the guesser wants the asker to “read their mind.”

Guesser to an Asker:

  • G: “Hey, are you busy right now?”
  • A: “No, what’s up?”
  • G: “If you’ve got time can you get those video edits to me?”
  • A: “Sure! I’ll get it done as soon as I can.”
  • G: “Thanks!”

As you can see in this scenario, the guesser doesn’t ask directly. They might soften the question by using a preliminary ask, such as “Are you busy?”

Then the guesser might typically ask their question but avoid imposing any direct deadlines—even if they want something done by tomorrow, they may not explicitly state their needs.

And if you’re trying to say no in a particular scenario, here’s what to do:

How to Politely Say No to a Job Offer

This one stings, but being desired by an employer you ultimately don’t want to work for can be painful—you don’t want to get their hopes up, but you’re afraid of saying no and hurting their feelings.

The first step is not to get too worked up in the first place. But if you’re past that stage, you might want to try one of these nos:

  • “I realize I want to work for you, but I don’t think I have the capacity at this point in time to give it my 100%. There are just too many personal circumstances I’m dealing with right now.”
  • “I’ve decided to go with a different employer for now; however, I appreciate the time and effort you put into the hiring process.”
  • “I’ve ultimately decided my commitment to my current employer is much stronger than I’d realized.”
  • “After taking some time to think about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t think we’d be a great fit. I’m looking for a different type of job, but I wish you all the best in the future!”

How to Say No to a Date

Dating can be rough. Luckily, you don’t have to say yes to every single person who glances your way.

… Or do you?

If you’re struggling to find dates, then perhaps saying yes is the way to go. But if you know exactly who you’re looking for, and that guy or gal just doesn’t fit the bill, then you need a polite rejection. Add on the following in bold to make it a bit more gentle:

  • “I’m just not looking for a date right now, but we can just hang as friends instead.
  • “I’d rather focus on my work/school, as it’s my #1 priority. However, we can still study or collab together!”
  • “The timing is not good for me, as I just left a relationship not too long ago. But we can still keep in touch!
  • “Sorry, I have strong feelings for someone else right now. But I’m having a house party soon—why don’t you invite your friends, and we can all have fun?
  • “Sorry, I don’t want to ruin what we have. Let’s continue being friends!

How to Say No to a Friend Who Wants to Stay at Your Place

Have you ever randomly received a text from your high school friend that went something like this:

“Hey, Vanessa! I’m in your city right now. I know we haven’t met in over a decade, but can I stay at your place?”


If you’re not feeling as generous as a CouchSurfing host, you might want to implement one of these polite letdowns:

  • “Sorry, there’s not enough space in my home right now.”
  • “Oh! I’m actually going to be out of town during this time to visit my relatives/for a work meeting/etc.”
  • “I just asked my spouse, and they said they’re really busy these days and would rather avoid having someone over—sorry about that!”
  • “We’re actually in the middle of renovating the home right now! There’s so much stuff around that there’s no room to fit an extra person. I hope you can understand!”
  • “I actually have my stepparents sleeping over this week!”
  • “My house is as small as a cardboard box—no more room left here!”

How to Say No to Your Boss

Nobody wants to say no to their boss, but sometimes you have so much on your plate that piling on more work would seem impossible.

In that case, here’s how to say no without going overboard:

  • “I wish I could help you, but I have a rush project right now, and I’m trying to meet the deadline. I just don’t think I’d have the capacity right now.”
  • “In that case, can you give me an extra couple days to finish my other X project while I prioritize your task?”
  • “I’d love to help, but I already made plans with my family tonight.”
  • “I just feel really burned out now; perhaps after a good night’s rest, I’ll be more productive later.”
  • “I’ve really got to prioritize the Y project. If it’s not critical, can you please hold off on other tasks so we can prioritize this one for now?”
  • “I might be able to glance over it quickly, but I don’t think I’ll have the time to put in concentrated effort until next week.”
  • “This task sounds really interesting—I’d love to get to it! But I don’t think I can meet your tight deadline. Could we perhaps push it back to a later date?”

Saying Maybe Is Okay Too!

If you haven’t noticed already, saying maybe isn’t exactly saying no.

Sometimes, you might really just need time to think over something.

Maybe you really want to help out on a project because it’ll benefit you too, but you’re not immediately sure how it would fit into your schedule.

Maybe you really do want to go out to a social gathering or meet an acquaintance for coffee, but you don’t yet know if your work schedule can accommodate it.

In cases like these, it’s okay to get back to them after you mull things over. Be honest and say, “I’m interested, but let me get back to you.”

The key here is to make sure you actually get back to them.

Too many people use maybe as a gutless way of saying no before ultimately either forgetting about the plan or pushing it off again and again until the other party finally gets the hint.

Make no mistake: if you do this too often, people catch on, and it’ll sour their perception of you way more than if you had just said no the first time.

Wielding Your Sword and Shield

If you’re looking for even more say-no knowledge, check out this amazing TED Talk from entrepreneur and public speaking expert Kenny Nguyen.

With his analogy of “no” being the shield to the sword of “yes,” Nguyen argues that we should learn to fight strategically in the battle of life. When do we block versus strike?

Learning to wield our shield effectively, according to Nguyen, will result in sacrificing opportunities in the short term for even greater opportunities in the long term. As powerful of a warrior as you may be, you won’t last long if you don’t know when to block! 


Believe it or not, you can prioritize yourself while still maintaining social harmony.

The truth is, most well-adjusted people can take a no. They won’t instantly dislike you and they won’t be offended, especially if you’re respectful about it.

So challenge yourself to put yourself first. Learn to say no, and see how drastically your life changes.

And for further reading, take on this amazing article to really be more confident: How to Be More Confident: 11 Scientific Strategies For More

9 thoughts on “6 Effective Tips to Politely Say No (that actually work!)”

  1. Valerie Cormack

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

  2. Valerie Cormack

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

  3. Valerie Cormack

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

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

Comments are closed.

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