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HOW TO SAY “NO” TACTFULLY

HOW TO SAY “NO” TACTFULLY


“Who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson





Was one of your last year’s New Year’s resolutions to say “no” to more things so that you have more balance in your life? How are you doing? Probably not too good. One of the most powerful words you can have in your vocabulary is the word “no.” Yet many people have great difficulty saying it.

After all, a lot of us have been socialized to please others, to always say “yes.” And certainly you want to be helpful and to say yes as often as you can, but in today’s fast-paced hectic world you must sometimes say no simply because you cannot do it all any more. Here are a few ideas from my program on

“Communicating with Diplomacy and Tact” to help you practice your “no” script.

Try, “I’m so sorry, if I could do that for you I would.” This is a softer way to say “no.” And you would do it for them if you could, wouldn’t you? So it is appropriate to say you are sorry. Or, if you are uncomfortable with saying “I’m sorry,” just drop that part and simply say, “Oh, if I could do that for you I would.” This is closely related to “I’d love to, but no.” Provide a reason or excuse why you can’t do it.

Other ways to say “no” include:

“Let me get back to you on that.” While you are making up your mind, the person may find someone else to do it. It will also give you time to think about it. Often we say “yes” when we really want to say “no” because in the heat of the moment we can’t think of a good excuse.

“I can’t help you right now, but I could do it next Wednesday. Would that be okay?” This response give you credit for wanting to help, but manages it on your time schedule, not theirs.

“Before I do this for you, let me show you a few things that you can do by yourself.” This helps you to wean someone away from always needing your help.

“Sure, I’ll be glad to do that report, but which of my other projects shall I let slide and put in front of this?” When you have people who load you up with work, you must help them prioritize. Often they don’t realize how long a project will take so you need to make them aware of the time needed and other projects you have on tap.

“No, I wouldn’t feel right about doing that.” It’s hard for people to argue with your ethics. If you want, you can explain why, but you don’t have to. If you don’t feel right doing something, that is reason enough. Be assertive.

“I’ll agree to do ________, if you agree to do _______.” This is negotiation kind of “no.” This phrase is good to use with children or co-workers.

“It’s been so long since I did that, I wouldn’t know how to do it.” This is the “play dumb no.” Ask them to check with other people who have done it more recently or to check in the manual.

“You know, Susan is really good at that. Why don’t you ask her?” By suggesting someone else, you come across as helpful, yet you don’t have to do the work.

The next time someone asks you to do something you really don’t want to do, use one of these “no” statements. Then let me know which ones work for you!


© Peggy Morrow. All Rights Reserved.


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