• How-to
  • 4 min read

Learning English: 8 Great Ways To Say No Politely

Let’s face it—saying no politely isn’t always easy. On the job or in our personal lives, we are frequently faced with those difficult, awkward moments when we want to say no, yet we know that if it is not said graciously, we may suffer unwelcome consequences.

How do you refuse your boss when he wants you to work late without him thinking any less of you or questioning your commitment to the job?

How do you say no to a good friend when you don’t want to hurt their feelings or jeopardize your friendship?

How do you turn down your favorite aunt’s invitation to dinner when she proudly tells you she’s making her infamous Sardine  Casserole? 

Knowing how to say no with tact and gracefulness in situations like these is a valuable social survival skill. Save yourself from an offensive faux pas, or even worse (gasp!), saying yes when you really want to say no. Here are 8 invaluable tips for saying no politely:

1. Always be kind

Say no with kindness and be gentle in your approach. Be courteous. Demonstrate your good manners and sensitivity. Don’t hesitate to express regret, say thank you or apologize, even if only for the simple reason that they were hoping you would say yes and may feel disappointed.

For example:

“I’m very sorry but I have to say no.”

“Thank you for thinking of me, but regretfully, it’s not something I can commit to at the moment.”

2. Give an explanation why

If you have a plausible reason for saying no, don’t be afraid to explain it. Giving a brief explanation allows the other person to understand your reason, elicits empathy, and goes a long way towards dispelling any potential ill-feelings.

For example:

“I’m sorry, Mr. Bullwhip. I wish I could stay, but I just can’t work late today. I’m coaching my son’s Little League game this evening.”

“I’d really like to take on the job but I’m already tied up with another project this week. My apologies.”

3. Say it with a compliment

Try to include a compliment whenever possible. A little praise gives the person something positive to focus on and makes it much easier to accept the negative.

For example:

“Your cooking is always so delicious, Aunt Burndet. It kills me to say no, but I can’t join you for dinner tonight. Will you please save me some?”

“You did a great job on this proposal. I’m very impressed, but I’m afraid I have to say no at this time.”

4. Suggest another solution

Suggesting an alternative option shows your willingness to be helpful and can motivate the person to think about other possibilities instead of dwelling on your refusal.

For example:

“I can’t do it myself right now, but have you considered asking Aunt Burndet to help with the menu? I bet she’d love to do it!”

“Regretfully, I’m fully booked at the moment, but I have a few great referrals I’d be happy to share with you if you’re interested.”

5. Say “not now” instead

When the situation warrants it, saying “maybe later” or “not now” might possibly spare you from having to give a definite “no”. Use this tactic sparingly, however. While some people may never ask again, you can expect some people to be persistent, and they could become suspicious if it’s somehow never the right time.

For example:

“That sounds like fun, but I’m just not up for it today. Can I take a raincheck?”

“I wish I had the time, but I really can’t right now. Perhaps we could do it another time?”

6. Buy some time

Depending on the situation, sometimes stalling can get you off the hook. There are polite ways to postpone giving your answer, and they might not ask again. At the very least, it would give you more time to decide how you want to answer if they do continue to ask.

For example:

“That sounds really interesting. I’m going to have to think about it though. Can I let you know?”

“I appreciate the invite but I’m not sure what I have going on that day. Let me check my calendar and get back to you.”

7. Try a little negotiation

When the answer isn’t a simple no and you might be willing to participate in some way, don’t be afraid to try a little negotiation. Offering a compromise demonstrates that you really do care, and it just might be a perfect solution!

For example:

“I’d love to help you move but my back has really been bothering me lately. Could I bring my truck and just be a driver?”

“I can’t come into the office on Saturday. I’ll have my kids with me all weekend. I wouldn’t mind working on the case from home though, if that works for you?”

8. Be honest about your discomfort

If a request makes you feel uncomfortable, sometimes it’s okay to just be honest about it. Showing a bit of vulnerability may be enough to dissuade the person from wanting to impose on you, especially when they comprehend your feelings on the matter. 

For example:

“Thanks but no thanks. Rock climbing is not for me. I have to confess I’m afraid of heights! I hope you have a great time though. I’d love to see pics when you get back.”

“I’m sorry. I’d like to help but I have a strict policy against loaning money to friends. Please don’t be mad, but please don’t ask. Honestly, it makes me uncomfortable.” 

Now that you’ve been armed with these helpful tips, you just might find it a little easier saying no politely. Good luck! (And whatever you do, watch out for Aunt Burndet’s Sardine and Tripe Casserole!)

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