7 Ways To Say No

When was the last time when you practiced your “No”‘s? Oh, you don’t practice your “No”‘s? And why is that? Because you’re having a hard time saying “No”? Because you feel a little bit embarrassed by that? Maybe because people will turn their back on you if you dare to say “No”?

With all due respect, saying “No” it’s a vital part of our lives. If you can’t do it whenever you feel the need, there’s something wrong in the system. You have the right to chose your responses and there’s no rule which says they may not contain the word “No”. Well, maybe not always in this rather bare and somehow rude form, but with this exact meaning.

Why Saying No?

Because you really have to. Life is made up of choices and, obviously, choices means you can pick whatever you want. Saying “Yes” constantly to everything is not a choice. The same way saying “No” to everything is not a choice. Honestly putting your “Yes” and “No” on what you really want is a choice.

Too often people seem to be scared by saying “No”. The fear of rejection overcome the desire of authenticity. There’s a subtle, unconscious block which makes you feel like an alien, an outlaw, a loser and a ridiculous person if you dare to openly express your opinion by saying “No”.

I found over the time that a timely “No” is always better than a squeezed “Yes”. And you don’t have to be rude about your refusal. In fact, you can craft your own “No” strategy, which, carefully practiced, can give better results than a dumb, submissive and obedient approach.

Here are 7 ways in which you can say “No” to people – whenever you feel the need to say “No”, that is – and a little bit of background for each refusal strategy.

1. I’m Sorry But I Think I’ve Been There Before

And didn’t feel quite good about it. I mean, I totally know what you’re offering and I know it’s great, but I don’t have a very good memory about that. It’s not you. it’s me.

The focus here is on a previous bad experience with what you’re asked to do. You tell the other part you’ve done that before and you didn’t get the expected results. This approach has at least 2 big advantages.

First of all, it doesn’t challenge the possibility. The other part will know that what he asks was done before. That in itself could sometimes stop the desire all together. People may ask things from you just to see if they’re possible.

And second, you clearly state your experience with that. In this case, a negative experience. From this point away, once you stated you had a bad outcome, the other part doesn’t have many other options. And you didn’t even say the word “No”.

2. You Might Be Right, But My Intuition Disagrees

I really can’t talk my intuition into this one, you know. Maybe rationally this seems to be the best thing to do right now, but I just have this feeling… You can’t beat a feeling, you know?

Again, this doesn’t openly challenge the legitimacy of the proposal: “it might be right”. But it doesn’t validate it either. What it does though, it puts between you and the proposal a safety cushion called “intuition”.

Whenever you use words like “intuition” or “feelings” you make things really difficult for the other part. Because everybody trust feelings. Positioning the proposal against your feelings it’s something perceived as plain wrong.

3. Are You Sure This Is The Best Moment To Do This?

I mean, there are a lot of other priorities on my plate right now and I don’t know if I can cope with all that work involved. Really, is this the best moment?

In this case, emphasis is on the time constraint. It’s not the actual thing that is refused, but the moment. It’s a postponing, in fact, and people are receiving postponings better than refusals. It might be done somewhere, but just not now.

The promise of something possible, even in a distant future, as opposed to something totally out of question in the present moment, is something so powerful, that almost anyone will fall for it. Ok, I’ll wait. Maybe later. Great.

4. That Sounds Fantastic But I Have A Better Idea

Why don’t we just do this instead, I think it’s much more fun (easy, timely, useful) than doing what you just asked me. Which, by the way, it’s fabulous, you know…

This refusal strategy challenge the curiosity in the other person. First of all, you don’t go against what they said: “that sounds fantastic”, but at the some time you throw a little bait: “I have a better idea”. Everybody falls for better ideas.

The best thing about this strategy is that you silently change the role of the other person. From someone who commands you to someone who’s your partner. You go from refusing something you don’t want, to implementing a partnership for something you want.

5. Are You Sure This Is Going To Work?

I mean, it sounds a little bit risky. Why don’t we settle for something more convenient for the moment, until we see how things turn out. How about that?

This challenges the very core of the proposal, aiming at lowering the confidence of the other part in it. While this is not as effective as the first strategies, it does have a decent success rate. Especially when dealing with bully requests.

The approach in this case is to get an armistice until things can get a little better. Usually, the other part will agree, as you don’t openly refuse the proposal. With some time on your part you can then wait for a more favorable context.

6. Maybe You Should Lead On This And I’ll Follow Later

I mean, you seem to really know what you’re doing so I really think you’re fit to be the first in this one. Just go ahead and I’ll be right behind, learning from you…

This is on the verge of playing bad joke, but nevertheless, it has its success rate. Sweet talking the other part end enforcing his leader abilities could sometime create a situation in which he’s already doing what he asked from you.

Pretending the other part is in charge will often act like a magic mirror: they’ll actually start to be in charge and discard your role in the whole situation. The risk is that at some point they’ll want to look behind and you’d better be there.

7. Read My Lips: “NO”

Is that clear enough for you? It’s a NO. Capital letters. Plain, full, simple NO. I’m not going to do this. Period. End of story.

When everything else fails, do this. An open, honest and vocal refuse will most likely surprise the other part, especially if it comes on a history of obedience and submission. You can even get some respect for your strong position.

From all the other strategies, this is my favorite. I don’t do it very often, because, believe it or not, the other ones are working just great. But every now and then there are some situations when everything else fails. 😉


Which one is your favorite? How many of them have you experienced so far? Of course, if you have another one, not listed, feel free to add it in the comments, if you think it’s worth.

Or you may as well refuse to do so. 🙂

53 thoughts on “7 Ways To Say No”

  1. With Parents: I don’t want to.
    With Friends: I don’t want to – please don’t hate me! Luv yah!
    Close relatives/Friends/Distant relatives/Co-workers/Team-mates: Oh that’s an excellent idea. I was also thinking about this – what do you think? (If Rejected – I like what you are saying, but I am also more inclined towards what I was thinking..hmm..let’s sleep on it?)
    Boss: I am working on A and B and C that you want me to finish, i can stop that and work on what you are saying? (I’d do my hw before saying variation of a ‘No’ – Its going to take so and so time if we go the route you are suggesting, and will cost so and so, etc. With Boss, have a compelling case – you are getting paid to do the job)
    Co-workers/Team-mates: Ive so many things to finish, rain check?

    I feel like it is important to be diplomatic as us humans are feeling creatures unless you are comfortable with that person to say ‘No.’ to, and receiving a ‘No’ when on a flip side..

    my 2 cents..

  2. Pingback: 100 Ways To Ruin Your Life
  3. Pingback: 14 Wasy To Say Yes
    • That’s one very interesting point of view. Saying NO to unimportant stuff in order to make room for the important stuff. Never saw success like this but I will surely try to make some visualizations based on your suggestion.

  4. One of the best feelings ever at my work was saying NO to a manager. He came to me last second to run one of his team meetings and I said NO. If you had come to me with sometime to prepare, I’d probably have been happy to do it.

    Learning to tell myself no has been interesting as well.
    .-= Scott Webb´s last blog ..12 Interviews with the Web’s Hottest Rising Stars =-.

    • That was interesting: learning to say NO to yourself. I see this as a cornerstone of a successful self-discipline attitude. As for saying NO to managers, well, they have to get used to it 🙂

  5. Whenever I am leading a meeting and a person comes up with an idea that I’m not too happy about, my favorite response is “Thats a good idea, why don’t you take the lead on this?” The reason i love this so much is because if the person is really committed to the idea they will take the lead. If they are just trying to look smart by throwing idea out, they will find a way not to take the lead. That phrase is a cure-all. Thanks for posting!

  6. Really interesting article. My favorite is actually the “Why don’t you lead this?” solution. It’s one I use regularly to get out of stuff.
    .-= Monica O’Brien´s last blog ..Solutions to 4 problems entrepreneurs face with new media =-.

    • I had a friend who used this all the time, in a very humorous way: every time he didn’t want to go with us in a certain place, he used to say this out loud: “ok guys, why don’t you lead the path and I’ll be with you in a moment”. But he said in such an obvious way that we couldn’t help laughing every time we heard it 🙂

  7. Hey Dragos,

    Thanks for this article. The assertive NO is something I definitely need to build into my arsenal of social skills. At the moment I end up imposing all sorts of crazy time constraints on myself and having engagements on my plate that I just don’t want to do, simply because I didn’t voice my preference at the appropriate time.
    .-= Taz´s last blog ..More Sleep and No Caffeine update =-.

    • Hey, Taz

      And welcome to my blog (it was really nice meeting you at the Pavlina workshop in Vegas 🙂 ). And if we’re talking about your “no”‘s allow me to tell you that I think you are a very courageous person already. Just follow this path, you’ll be there soon.

  8. This is excellent Dragos. I laughed over some of these because they are delightfully creative.

    I think saying “no” can one of the hardest things we do. I slowly get better at it with each passing year, but can still sometimes get caught off guard. I will often try to count to ten and then reply to someone. It gives me just long enough to slow down and remember that I have the right to say “no”.

    Also with age, I’ve learned to be honest, but still kind. Where I can say “no” but do so in a loving, but firm way. It helps to remember my own life priorities and to have a solid sense of self and the direction and goals in my own life.

    This is a fun read.
    .-= Robin Easton´s last blog ..Five Perspectives on Death =-.

    • Hey, Robin,

      Have you noticed that people with higher life temperature are inclined to be on the “yes” side? It’s like saying “no” to a dumb request will take out all the juice in life. I’ve been there too but now I’m more relaxed and easy going. Ok, it’s a no, let’s move on 🙂

  9. Definitely one of the most important skills to master.

    When I first started to really actively say no, I used the “I have no time” cop-out. I thought that’s what most people could relate to the most. After all, who isn’t busy nowadays?

    But the more I experienced the positive results of being able to say no, the more the want for authenticity kicked in and my current #1 no phrase is:
    “Thank you for considering me. I regret that I have to say no.”

    It’s still a cop-out because of the “have to” but with practice and time I’m sure I’ll be able to just say no without the need for justification. 🙂

    • “I have no time” is a good refuge, but it’s very easy to be circumvent by stubborn people who are hunting you down until you “have” time. But it’s also a huge step ahead compared with a totally submissive and numb attitude.

  10. I really enjoyed this post. Saying no has been one of the biggest learning curves for me. I used to say yes to most requests, if I’m honest because I wanted people to like me. I still do want people to like me 🙂 but the difference is I’m less bothered and have started to be a lot more clear with people about what I can and can’t do. People do respect you for saying no but ultimately I think it gives you an empowered feeling to choose what you experience rather than accept everything that others offer.

    • Big fear, isn’t it? That you won’t be loved by people if you don’t agree. In my opinion this is the biggest manipulation tool ever.

  11. Hello Dragos. I can think of a lot of others like “I’m sorry but I have other priorities right now”. I find people seem to accept a firm and honest no much better than a yes that you will never follow through on. Good job here.
    .-= Stephen – Rat Race Trap´s last blog ..Helping Others While Helping Yourself =-.

    • That is a good one: “I have other priorities right now”. It really gives people of sense of your own life and activities. Too often we’re seen as resources for others and not as individuals with their own life.

  12. Hi Dragos,
    It is so good you describe 7 NOs. It gives you a better perspective of various situations we are in life. Besides, you become aware of various relationships you have with others. My intuition tells me that first of all you should understand yourself and understanding other people’s attitude – towards you and towards the thing they ask you to do – you’ll find it fairly easy to find an appropriate way to say NO if it is a good answer under given circumstances. I have come to a point when I can say no without feeling guilty. Thank you a lot for giving a framework to the problem of ‘saying NO’. Have a tranquil weekend

    • Guilt and shame are built on refusal, most of the time, you’re so right about that. World is expecting us to perform in a specific way, and if we chose the other way around, we’re in fpr punishment. I don’t think so. 🙂

  13. Hi Dragos, another peach of an article. Like Ian said these all have their place and time, however, I do prefer the direct approach so can resonate most with #7
    .-= Steven Aitchison´s last blog ..50 Ways To Build Your Optimism. =-.

    • lol, I didn’t know I’m in the peach business 🙂 As for your vibe, I had a hunch that you’ll be in for the 7th point 😉

  14. This was a great post. There was a time when I hated saying no & it was like I wore a sign on my head. My favorite way to say No these days is a lot like your last one…. quick, clear, and to the point. It usually goes something like this, “No that won’t work for me. See you later.”

    I think the important thing is to appear locked on your response when you say no. If not, what people really hear is, “I’m saying no but I feel so bad about saying it that you can probably get me to change my mind if you push this.” And people who have a hard time saying no will often cave if they have to keep saying it.
    .-= Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog ..What It Really Takes to Achieve the Impossible =-.

    • Great point, Nea: being authentic when you say NO is fundamental. If you’re “just saying it” it won’t work. It would be a very bad disguised “Yes”.

  15. Hi Dragos.

    I like your 7 strategies for saying ‘no’. I don’t have a favourite as I think they all have a place and time. What struck me is how conditioned we are to justify a ‘no’. We’re hardly ever asked to justify when we agree to something and almost always when we refuse. I’ve found that the best way to deal with this is to respond is to say

    ‘No. Because I don’t want to do it.’

    It’s kind of hard to argue with that.

    • Yeap, we are conditioned to justify our “NO”‘s because everybody expects us to. We do that by fear of rejection, most of the time, and that’s such a pity. Being accepted not for what you are, but despite what you are should be the norm.

      Or, in other words: “we don’t love each other coz we’re nice, we love each other despite of that”.

  16. Great post! I love this post because it can be instantly learned and purely practical and:

    a) it gives us at many gracious options of saying NO – which should be the first and the most common word to be used by all project managers;

    b) it contains four solid techniques (see the third, forth, fifth and sixth “say no”s) in which the other one – that is the person we are talking to – has to justify and defend his proposal.

    Being crazy-busy these days, my most common way of saying no (a variation of the forth “say-no”) is “That sounds great and if you could come 30 minutes / 2 days / 1 month earlier, it would be been great… now I am waaaay too busy. Let’s have this talk in another couple of months”.



    • lol, I remember the days when I was doing what you’re doing now and I admire you, I don’t think I could do it again 🙂

      As for the most common word used by project managers, and that being “NO”, totally agree. Feature hunting is the biggest project killer.

  17. I’m ok with all of the ways to say NO, except for number 4. It drives me crazy whenever I hear something like that. Especially that BUT. I try not to spring that on people.
    .-= adriansabah´s last blog ..From Tawau Airport To Town =-.

  18. Different ways to say NO the smart way enriches communication skills. AND: If you can say NO when it feels ( 😉 ) right, then you might even gain the space for things to say YES to, opening other opportunities which are blocked otherwise.

    Since you mentioned “intuition”: I’d suggest everyone also to think it about it, when your feelings tell you to say YES or NO. They might fool you sometimes. Also might someone be fooling, who relates to your feelings (intuition). It is often a good thing to stick to facts when communicating. Which you should not read as “Intuition” is a bad thing. NO!! *g*

    Anyway, this post of yours can even be a brick in successful business construction, and a building block of personal development. I even saved to article in my digital knowledge base, because my conscious mind AND my intuition both go along with it. Which gives me a good feeling in the end.

    Thanks for sharing, Dragos.

    • Thanks for being around, Uli and for saving the article in your knowledge base. I appreciate that 🙂

      As for sticking to the facts, I’m totally for it. Whenever I can 🙂

      • >As for sticking to the facts, I’m totally for it. Whenever I can
        Of course.

        It comes to my mind, that one might ask: “What are facts anyway?” You see, I am playing the the devil’s advocate here 😉 To believe exclusively in facts, thus refusing intuition, “irrational” / personal / subjective goals is even a sign of weakness which is good to improve on, taking more responsibility for your own thinking. But that is off topic, isn’t it?!

        Actually I was playing the devil’s acvocate with my first reply, too, relating to No 2. I appreciate your article, especially the basic message that saying “No” is vital part of our lives. Which requires proven techniques 🙂

        Above that, it is also worth always to consider the other person’s perspective. So, if somebody says “No” to YOU and relates to intuition and feelings, then you can think: “Wait a minute… do I really want to be distracted like that?” 🙂

  19. Thanks, Dragos. It seems that anywhere in the world, saying no is somewhat a taboo. No is usually synonymous with rejection and failure, so most of us avoid saying it as if it were a curse — but it will all change after reading this post. Keep those articles coming!


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