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10 Tips for Saying an Effective "No"
I can help you do it with confidence and flair, and WITHOUT looking like an asshole.
If you’re overworked, overdrawn, and overwhelmed because you have a hard time saying that pesky two-letter word, please enjoy these tips from my book Fuck No!: How to Stop Saying Yes When You Can’t, You Shouldn’t, or You Just Don’t Want To.
(Boundaries, baby! They’re kinda my specialty.)
Slow your no roll. Deciding whether you even want to say yes or no is harder when you’re standing face-to-face with a fellow human intent on getting a response. To give yourself some time and space to ruminate on the request, master the phrase “I’ll have to think about that.” It’s a polite, natural way to press Pause on the conversation until you’re ready to resume—be that in two minutes, two days, or two weeks from never.
Follow the Golden Rule. If you feel bad about saying no, ponder how you would want someone to respond to your invitation, if they really couldn’t or simply didn’t want to join you. You wouldn’t want them to feel guilty or pressured to say yes anyway, would you? Right. Shift your mindset and do unto others as you would have them do unto you, boo.
Be explicit. If you’re having FOMO but still want to say no, just…say so! Telling people that you’re conflicted (and why) shows them you’re not just a flake or being purposefully hard to pin down. They’ll be more inclined to give you another chance to join in another time—which is what you were hoping for in the first place. And that’s BOBO. (Best of both options.)
Scapegoats are great goats. If you’re still too timid to take full responsibility for your no, you could invoke a third party. Your boss wouldn’t like it; your babysitter isn’t available that night; God’s watching; etc. Sneaky but effective.
Mission: Impossible. Especially in a work context, learn to replace “I can’t” with “That won’t be possible.” This keeps your competence out of the equation and stops clients and colleagues from thinking there remains a possibility that you could still say yes if they just keep bugging you about it.
Add a compliment condiment. Like a Chipotle burrito bowl, every no can be customized. I like to lace mine with the hot sauce of high praise, e.g., “Thanks so much for the invite, Auntie Cynthia, but I’ll have to let someone else drool over your amazing salmon loaf this time around!”
The “No-for-now.” This one’s great for keeping your options open. For example, if your hairdresser suggests a radical cut or color or shaping of sideburns, it’s okay to say “Not today, thanks. I’d need more time to get used to that idea.” On one hand, they see a lot of hair on a daily basis and they probably have a good idea of what would flatter your face. On the other hand, Cersei Lannister died before she was able to grow out that pixie cut. Cautionary tale.
No, but make it a pictogram! Use emoji to keep your no brief, nonconfrontational, and disarming. “I’d rather choke on a hardboiled egg than sit through Easter services” becomes “Can’t make it this year! [bunny] [ham] [sad face]”
File under “Nope.” I don’t know who needs to hear this, but if you receive an unsolicited email or snail mail for anything that you don’t want to buy, sponsor, review, or “TRY FREE FOR 30 DAYS!” you can just hit Delete or toss it in the circular file and never think about it again. Not even once. Seriously, it’s okay.
Don’t get cocky. If someone prefaces a request with “Do you mind if I…?”—and you do mind—then you have to say YES, not no. Stay alert for trick questions.