How To Politely Say No Without Saying "No"

Nelly Wadia , 16 Mar 2021
How to politely say no. By HBRH | www.shutterstock.com
How to politely say no. By HBRH | www.shutterstock.com

Saying no is a really hard skill to imbibe. Especially if you’re fighting hard to prove yourself and don’t want to come across as lazy. Most workplaces will gauge how proactive you are when it comes to your work and if you possess leadership skills. This would mean saying no a lot less and taking on a lot more. What if I told you that you didn’t have to burn yourself to the ground and could say no and still be seen as proactive? I know this sounds like a distant dream.

You probably find yourself saying yes always and then regretting your decision. Well, saying no is especially hard for people-pleasers. Also because you’re probably thinking; how does one decline nicely and manage to not burn any bridges in the process? I may not be an expert on this subject, but I can definitely give you some insight into how I became more assertive and clear about my boundaries. Here are some tips that I use to politely decline an offer of sorts.

Here’s how you too can politely decline an offer:

Understand why saying no is hard for you:

We’re all incredibly different and our reasons for wanting to say no will be different as well. So it would benefit you to know why in advance. Are you afraid of sounding negative or bossy? Do you want to not upset or offend the other person? Do you feel they might view you as unprofessional? Are you scared of being yelled at for declining? Or does it stem from a need to please people? Once you know why you can’t say no, you’re free to explore this in a more rational and internalised manner. For example, if you fear coming across as negative then you need to revisit the way to respond and react to triggers.

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Saying no doesn’t have to be a negative experience:

a) Provide a reason: Sometimes, you just can’t say yes even if you wanted to. This might be because you have a prior engagement, current commitments or the environment simply doesn’t allow it. In such situations, you can choose to be honest and provide a reason to back your response.

b) Respectfully decline: Sometimes you just might not be interested in the suggestion or offer. In this situation, it is best to not try and sugar coat it, being honest and saying, you would like to respectfully decline. It lets your sincerity shine through. But offering a random and fake compliment before dropping a bomb can really shed light on your cowardice.

c) Agree to do it in future: If you truly wish to accept the offer and can’t under the current circumstance, you could offer up the suggestion of taking on that particular task in the near future.

d) Suggest an alternate solution: Saying no can also mean you offering another solution for turning down an offer. You could say you aren’t free at the moment to take on the project but in fact, suggest someone with the same or better skills who might be suited for the task.

e) Chalk it up to management: This is essentially the best answer to give someone who isn’t an internal company resource. You simply say no suggesting that the higher power is in control. Technically you’re saying you would like to help but you’re not allowed to.

f) You could deflect with questions: A hard one to crack because it means you need to skillfully ask a question instead of giving an answer. This is a less confrontational way to do it because it feels kinder and more helpful.

g) Keep it conditional: This is a situation that allows you to leverage offering help, which means you can ask for something in return for doing this task.

Why one should say no more often:

When you say no, people realize that they are in no position to take your talent or skills for granted or even exploit them. It will also raise value for the times that you do say yes. Saying no will eliminate expectations or leading the other person on. This skill will also let you make time for the things you like to do and help you progress in your career.

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Some phrases that will help you say decline politely:

  • I’m sorry I won’t be able to help you with that, but I could…
  • Maybe you could consider this?
  • I’m afraid that won’t work, but can I suggest…
  • I am unable to confirm right away, could I get back to you another time?
  • Unfortunately, I can’t take this on because I have a few prior-commitments.
  • I’m going to say no for now but I will let you know if something changes.
  • Thank you for considering me but I would have to decline at this point.
  • I’m sorry; I might not the best person to help with this. Can I suggest you check with X?
  • I would be happy to help you, but you’ll have to get my boss’ okay first.

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Do you have any tips on how to say no without saying no? Share it with us in the comments below!

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