14 ways to say “no”

Sometimes we know that we have to say “no.” But then we worry so much about the how of it – how to say it, how it’s going to be received, will I hurt someone’s feelings, will I get another opportunity, yada yada. We can make saying “no” so much harder than it needs to be.

One of my favorite stories to tell clients comes from when I went to a restaurant with two of my good friends. We sat down, got our water and then the server came by and offered us bread.

One friend said “Oh gee, it smells so good. But I really shouldn’t. If I eat bread now, I won’t be able to order dessert. But it looks so good…I just shouldn’t have both bread and dessert.”

The server moved on to my next friend. “Oh, I’m gluten intolerant. If I have bread with gluten it gets really ugly and you just don’t want to see that. And I’d be miserable for a couple of days, so I just really can’t.”

The server moved on to me and I said, “no, thank you.”

My friends just laughed. “I guess that’s a good enough answer.”

Sometimes “no, thank you” is just fine! We don’t need to share all our own stuff. It’s not a math test where we have to show our work.

But sometimes we do need a different thing to say. Sometimes we get so caught up in how we’re going to say “no” that we never actually say it at all and we discover we got tangled up in a yes web. Shoot!

I find it helps to have things in my back pocket. Strategies, plans, tools and options. Kind of like a Swiss army knife loaded with things to say or do when I get into a situation.

Here are a couple of my back pocket ways to say “now” without being a jerk and without being wishy washy.

  1. Not now, thank you.
  2. I’m going to have to pass this time.
  3. I’m just not ready to say yes.
  4. That’s a great idea, but we’re just not gonna go with it this time. (In my family, that’s our secret code for “are you F*ing kidding me?”)
  5. It doesn’t fit into my schedule.
  6. It’s not for me. (Maybe offer to someone else?)
  7. That’s so generous of you, but no thank you.
  8. I’m focusing on other things.
  9. This isn’t a fit for me.
  10. I’ve already allocated how I’m going to spend my time, money, resources, or whatever the ask is.
  11. Look, a puppy! (Okay, that’s really more of a distraction, but I do like to say it.)
  12. Hard pass. (Okay, that one can come across a bit like a jerk, but it’s not wishy washy!)
  13. Yeah, no. (Okay, this is a pretty popular one, but it does give off a bit of a mixed signal!)
  14. No.

I’m sure this starter list is gonna prompt you to think of some other ways to say, no, nix, nada, nope. Wanna share?

The big thing for me to remember is that I get to decide when I say “yes” so that means I also get to decide when I say “no”.  I don’t owe an explanation, but sometimes it is considerate to give one. Just think about whether the server actually needs to know –  or even cares – about why you don’t want bread.

In the meantime, remember these things: You are loved. We are all loved. Let’s all be kind. And in all things – progress, not perfection!


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