How to say no? And more specifically, how to say no firmly without hurting the other person’s feelings?
I used to say yes a lot. There were even times when I would cave in and blurt a yes to things I rejected initially.
On this page, you will find a consolidation of what I learned to say no. The same steps are applicable regardless of the medium. You can follow them to say no via emails, text messages or face-to-face interactions.
Table of Contents
A Case for Saying No More Often
Before presenting the ultimate guide to say no, I just want you to know that it’s okay to say no. In fact, you should say it more often.
Many of us shy away from giving no as the default answer to requests because we are afraid that we might be turning down an opportunity or miss out on an experience.
Also, saying no might backfire because we might need help from the other person in the future.
What we should keep in mind though, is that by saying yes to one thing, you are essentially reducing your capacity to say yes to something else. And that could be a bigger opportunity or an experience of a lifetime.
Derek Sivers, a writer, creator, and learner puts it aptly in his blog post:
When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say “HELL YEAH!”
When in doubt, say no.
Have you had the feeling of regret right before executing a commitment? Well, you were doing yourself and everybody involved a disservice. How can you be performing that your best with that feeling? Saying no helps you avoid situations like this.
I have been in the scenario above with speaking and consulting gigs. Today, I remind myself of the ill-feeling every time I’m about to say yes to an invitation that is not a “HELL YEAH!”
Your Ultimate Guide
Now that you understand why saying no to most things is the way to go, here are the detailed steps of how to do exactly that.
Be Kind and Start with a Positive Statement
You can still be kind and friendly when saying no. We don’t want to burn bridges.
Start your reply with a compliment or a statement of gratitude. Some examples that you can use include:
Thank you for thinking about me for this interesting project.
Wow, I’m sure it’s going to be an exciting event.
I’m honored to be considered for this opportunity.
Once you’ve done that, you can move on to your reasons for saying no.
State Your Reason
Never say no without a reason. You may come across as an egotistical or obnoxious person.
Don’t overthink it. A simple and straightforward reason is often enough. You can go with the fact that you are simply too busy or working on too many things right now to say yes.
Be honest and don’t lie. Prefer getting paid for a speaking gig instead of doing it for free? Say it! Want to turn down an interview request because the publication is too small? State your criteria and let the person come back to you when they meet it.
The weakest reasons are always the ones you try to make up. What is the first reason that comes up? How do you feel right away about a request? Asking yourself these questions will give you the best reasons for giving no as an answer.
Here’s an example of how Daniel Meyer, a restaurateur who has created some New York’s top restaurants, turned down Tim Ferriss’ request to interview him for the latter’s book, Tribe of Mentors:
Greetings and thanks for writing.
I’m grateful for the invitation to participate in Tim’s next book project, but am struggling at this moment to make time ends meet for all we’re doing at USHG, including my ongoing procrastination with my own writing projects. I thought carefully about this as it’s clearly a wonderful opportunity, but am going to decline—with gratitude.
Know the book will be a big success! Thanks again.
Danny Union Square Hospitality Group
As you can see, looking at yourself and what you already have on your plate will give you the best reason to say no.
Don’t Feel Bad
You might feel bad at this point, especially if the person asking for your favor is someone you respect or care a lot about.
It happens to me a lot.
Keep reminding yourself that you are also doing the person a favor with your no. The likelihood of delivering your best self or your best work is very low when you don’t feel excited about it. It might turn out to be a lose-lose situation, and both of you will look bad because of your yes.
Be Firm with Negotiations
In some situations, people asking for favors may not back down easily. They will come back with a counteroffer or another request that they think you can accommodate.
“What about this date instead?”
“I really need this. My life depends on this.”
“Can you please help me just this time?”
Some might even use guilt trips or take advantage of your FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
Regardless of what they say or do, you are actually very close to turning them away. Reiterating your stance and reasons will usually be enough.
If they persist, tell them how uncomfortable they are making you feel. Those who are respectful will back off at this point.
In rare cases when the message doesn’t get across, ignore or even consider blacklisting the person’s email or phone number. Distance yourself from them. Psychological manipulation tactics like guilt-tripping is a form of emotional abuse. Stay away before such tactics cause harm to your self-esteem.
Skip this step unless you really want to do this for the person asking.
Again, never commit to something half-heartedly. You’ll regret it. Don’t prolong the decision too. Say no there and then. Hell yeah or no!
Use Templates to Say No Like a Boss
Saying no to different requests is not easy if you are someone who gets a ton of requests due to your social status or where you are at in your career.
You may eventually give in, or ponder about the potential upside even if a request is very similar to the ones you’ve been getting.
To prevent the above, I have a list of what I call No Templates stored in my Evernote. Once I get more than three different requests that are similar, I will come up with a no template that I can use for future requests.
To date, I have no templates to handle these six types of requests:
To have coffee, meetings or calls
Unsolicited promotional emails
Under each of them, I keep an email and a text message version. The latter has a more casual tone. For example, I have the following to turn down a business owner who wants to hire me as a marketing consultant.
Thank you so much for thinking about me for this exciting project of yours.
Unfortunately, I really want to focus on my full-time work now because we are experiencing massive growth. Besides, I’m pretty occupied with my existing side hustles.
I hope you’ll be able to find someone else to help you out. Wishing you all the best with the project.
Hey man, thanks for thinking about me for this. I can’t take it up because I want to focus on my full-time work. I hope you’ll be able to find someone else that’s suitable.
Whenever I get a request, I look for an appropriate reply in my database of templates, customize it a little, and send it off. Having this in place saves time and removes the likelihood of me talking myself into saying yes.
You can refer to my email and text message templates to say no if you want to come up with templated responses of your own.
It’s a No for Most Things in Life
As much as we want to try as many things as possible and please everybody, all of us have limited time, attention and energy.
We must become better at conserving them for impactful tasks that serve our purpose and get us closer to our goals.
Use the steps above to say no more often. You’ll free up your life for better experiences and opportunities that you’re enthusiastic about.