How To Say No (With Examples)

By Kristin Kizer
Oct. 27, 2022
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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Do you have a hard time saying no? It’s a common issue, especially for women, who are often conditioned to appease others. So how do you break free of this and learn to say no when it’s what you really want to say?

Learning to say no plays into your personal and professional life. When you master the art of NO, you can begin to exert more control over your life and your time. It’s an important skill, and it can be learned. Just know that it takes time and practice.

We will go over why learning to say NO is important, when and how to say it, and we will provide some examples of how to say no in different situations.

Key Takeaways:

  • Saying no more often can lead you to having more free time, setting boundaries, and achieving your goals.

  • Most people try not to say no to avoid bad feeling and the need for approval from others.

  • When you start saying no to people, it may feel uncomfortable at first, but the more you you say it and practice the more you will feel comfortable.

  • You don’t always need to explain your reasoning, but you should be polite in your answer.

How To Say No (with Examples)

Why Learning No Is Important

If we have all of these very valid reasons for saying yes, then why would we ever want to say no? If you’ve been in this situation, you know why saying no is important; it’s because it’s not what you want to do. But saying yes can do more damage than you realize. Why should you say no more often?

  • Free time. Let’s not dismiss the importance of free time. You deserve self-care, and to do that, you need time. You also deserve to have the time to pursue things that really interest you.

  • Achieving goals. Speaking of things that interest you, you’ve got goals, and in order to achieve them, you need to work on them. This means saying no to things that take your time and don’t align with your goals.

  • Prioritizes others. Okay, sometimes other people do need to be your priority, but you certainly shouldn’t get lost in a world of yes. Unfortunately, that can quickly happen when saying yes to others means saying no to yourself.

  • Sets boundaries. When you say yes to one thing, you’re more likely to be asked to do more and more. Setting boundaries on what you will and won’t do is a good thing. It can define your work and personal relationships in a way that you are happier with.

  • Less stress and frustration. Raise your hand if you want less stress and frustration in your life. Saying no can immediately relieve you of some of those feelings.

  • Opens you up to YES. If you say no to things you don’t want to do, you’ve opened yourself up to the things you really want to do. That sounds like the best reason to us.

Why Saying No Is Difficult

Have you ever had someone ask you to do something, and every ounce of your being wants to say no, and yet, you hear yourself saying yes – why do you do that? Don’t worry; you’re not alone on this one. Saying no is difficult for just about everyone. And there are a lot of good reasons why.

  • Herd mentality. Humans are evolutionarily safer if they’re part of a herd or a community. We want to belong and be accepted, so we tend to behave in ways that others want us to, which includes saying yes to requests.

  • Avoiding bad feelings. Whether it’s an innate thing or we’re trained to do it, we don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings or disappoint them, so we say yes when we really mean no.

  • Vanity. Many of us want to look good and appear to be able to do it all. We can also feel flattered when someone asks us to do something, even if it’s something we don’t want to do. This can push us toward saying yes.

  • Fear. If you don’t say yes, will your friends stop liking you? Will you be passed over for the next promotion? Fear can play a big role in people being accommodating when they don’t want to be.

  • Need for approval. Similarly, we crave the approval of others, and by saying yes, we often get it. Or at least it feels like we’ll get it.

When to Say No

Before you start running around barking NO at everyone, let’s accept that there are times when you have to say yes, and there are times when it’s better to say yes, even if it’s not what you want.

When it comes to work and relationships, there are things we have to do to stay in everyone’s good graces and to make ourselves look and feel good that we’d maybe prefer not to do.

Your friend is going through a rough breakup and needs to talk, but you’d rather finish that bestseller book you’ve been reading. Of course, it’s best to talk to your friend. Or your boss asks you to finish a project early, which means you have to skip your evening plans. You don’t want to do it, but your professional reputation may be at stake.

Those are great instances of when you should say yes, but if your friend is going through some drama every other day, then maybe a no is in order. Or if your boss is constantly asking you to work late and on weekends, clearly some boundaries need to be established.

You are the best judge of your circumstances, but this is not automatic for many. The first step is to practice examining when you say yes and if it was really necessary. This will help you get better at determining yes and no situations before you open your mouth.

How to Say No

Part of saying no is the ability to say it in a way that won’t offend or upset others. A polite no is a bit of an art form. Use these tips to help you say no and mean it.

  • Practice. It’s probably not going to feel comfortable in the beginning or all of the time. The more you work at it, the better you’ll get.

  • No excuses. Excuses don’t help your cause, at least in most situations. Resist the urge to give an excuse for every no.

  • Don’t waffle. Make sure your no is clear and not left to interpretation. And then hold firmly to your decision.

  • Apologize or not. Sometimes, it can help ease the blow of a negative to apologize. For instance, “I’m sorry, I can’t make it.” But you don’t have to apologize in every situation.

  • Show gratitude. If it’s a situation that warrants gratitude, make sure you show it. Let’s say you were invited to a party, but you desperately need some downtime. Then you could say, “Thanks so much for the invite, but I’m afraid I’m not available.”

  • Confidence. Show confidence in your response and genuine emotion. Your no is more believable if you truly feel it.

  • Alternative. First of all, you don’t owe most people an alternative when you say no. But sometimes, you have an alternative that will work for both of you, so why not offer that up.

    Maybe doing something on Friday isn’t possible, but you’re free Saturday. Or you don’t know how to do a task, but you know someone who does. There are a lot of different scenarios where suggesting an alternative can be the best solution.

  • Compromise. If you think that a compromise is the best response, then you’re not really saying no. Let’s take a deeper look.

Not Saying Yes and Not Saying No

Not saying yes doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re saying no. First of all, this is why, if you mean no, you need to be clear about it. But we’re talking about a deeper sort of “not yes” in this situation.

These situations are ones where you can’t or don’t want to agree to the request, but you might agree to part of it. You might be able to do it if something changes, or you can be a part of the solution but not take it on all by yourself or commit to the whole thing.

If you want to go to the party, but you have a conflict, maybe you can go for a little while. This means you don’t have to say no, but you should make sure it’s okay that you arrive later.

Your boss asks you to do something that’s a priority. You certainly don’t want to say no, but you might want to let your boss know that it will push back the completion date of some other projects.

You can probably come up with even more situations where your answer, yes or no, will depend on certain criteria. You will go to the party if your ex isn’t there. You’ll train the new person if you get paid for the overtime. The possibilities are almost endless.

Examples of Saying No at Work

Because at Zippia, we’re all about helping you find the right job and supporting your career choices, let’s look at saying no in a work setting. The following are common questions you’ll encounter in the professional world that you might want to say no to.

We’ve not only come up with the questions, but we have also included a sample answer. Yours may vary, but it’s a good exercise to consider how to respond.

  1. May we contact your employer to get a reference?

    Example Answer: While I wish I could tell you yes, I’m afraid that would jeopardize my current situation.

  2. We’d like to offer you the job.

    Example Answer: I really appreciate that, and I’m flattered that you’ve chosen me for the position, but I’m afraid that I must turn down your job offer at this time.

  3. Can you work late on Friday?

    Example Answer: I’m sorry, I already have an engagement on my schedule. I won’t be able to take that extra shift.

  4. Can you turn in the report early?

    Example Answer: No, I’m still waiting on crucial information, and once I get it, I will need time to compile the data. I’m sorry if that’s an inconvenience, but the report would not be complete without this data.

  5. Do you want to be considered for this promotion?

    Example Answer: While I really appreciate you considering me, at this point in time, I’m very happy in my current position and feel I’m best suited for this job.

  6. Will you be the guest speaker at our next meeting?

    Example Answer: Thank you, that’s a flattering offer, but I have to say no. I currently don’t have the time to properly prepare for that meeting. I don’t want to sell myself short or give your team incomplete information.

Other Ways to Nicely Say No

Here are some different ways to say no, and some situations that you might use them:

Other ways to say no at work:

  • I would love to join you, but I’m feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment.

  • Now isn’t a good time for me. I’ll let you know if my schedule frees up.

  • Sadly, I cannot help with that. I’m not qualified for that type of work

  • How about you try it on your own first, and then I can help you if you still need it.

  • I know this isn’t the answer you wanted, but I cannot accept your offer.

  • No, sorry. I need to prioritize my family right now.

  • I can’t because my own team needs me.

  • I’ve actually changed my mind. I no longer can help you. Sorry for the inconvenience this may cause.

  • I can’t help, but I may have some resources I can forward to you.

  • This doesn’t fall under my job description. please refer to our manager to learn who to ask.

Saying no to an invitation or offer:

  • That sounds fun, but I have a lot going on at home.

  • The timing right now isn’t good. Can you keep me in mind for next time?

  • I appreciate the invitation, but I am completely booked

  • No thank you, but it sounds lovely.

  • I’m flattered you considered me, but unfortunately I’ll have to pass this time.

  • Thanks, but no thanks.

  • Sounds great, but I can’t commit.

Saying no when you don’t have the time:

  • I’m not able to make it this [week, month, year].

  • I have a few things I need to take care of first. Can I let you know later?

  • Circle back to me in a few months.

  • Another time might work.

  • I wish there were two of me!

  • Sadly I have something else.

  • No thanks, I have another commitment.

  • I’m spread thin these days, I just can’t take it on right now.

Saying no for any reason:

  • I’m afraid I can’t.

  • Unfortunately, it’s not a good time.

  • Not this time.

  • I have something else. I’m sorry.

  • I’d love to – but I can’t.

  • Apologies, but I can’t make it.

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Kristin Kizer

Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

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