The word “no” is one of the shortest and easiest to pronounce words in the English language; yet-paradoxically-it is one of the most difficult words to utter. When we tell people “no” we may be afraid of hurting their feelings or disappointing them or, worse, having them not like or approve of us. As with any skill, whether it be playing piano or dancing the tango, proficiency and finesse increase with practice. To make it easier and more palatable to say the word, “no,” try these polite hedges.
Polite Way to Say No #1: Add the word “thanks”
While the word “no” may seem harsh, the phrase “no thanks” sounds downright gracious. When you are asked to do something you don’t want to do, thank the person for thinking of you.
Example: “No thanks, but I appreciate your asking me to sponsor your daughter’s cheerleading trip to Disneyland.”
Polite Way to Say No #2: Suggest an alternate plan
When someone asks you to perform a task you’re not keen on doing, suggest something else you might do instead.
Example: “Sorry I won’t be able to take care of your Rottweiler next weekend, but I’d be happy to see if one of my friends can recommend a good pet sitter.”
Polite Way to Say No #3: Stall for time
Instead of saying “yes” right away (and regretting it later), tell the person requesting a favor you need a few days to think about it.
Example: “I’d love to help you clean out your garage next weekend, but I don’t have my calendar handy. Can I get back to you?”
Polite Way to Say No #4: Let them know you’re okay
Instead of succumbing to that second helping of lasagna your sister-in-law is pushing at you, tell her you’re already satisfied.
Example: “I’m good, but I’ll be happy to take some home for later.” (Hey, you can always feed it to your dog.)
Polite Way to Say No #5: Keep it simple
Sometimes the most polite way to say “no” is just to say “no”… with no explanation.
Example: I’m sorry, I can’t.
The most important thing to realize is that saying “no” is not a mean or selfish act. In fact, if you say “yes” too often, you could endanger your emotional and physical health and compromise the limited time and resources you have to spend on activities and goals that are more meaningful or important to you.
The inability to say “no” can also increase your stress level. According to the Mayo Clinic website, people should weigh the “yes-to-stress ratio” before committing to something new.
If saying “no” is difficult for you, practice some of these polite ways to say this short but hard-to-say word. You can even role play with your dog. He’ll like you no matter what, especially after you feed him some of your sister-in-law’s lasagna!