How to say no to others (and why you shouldn’t feel guilty)

If your boss hands you yet another project that you don’t have time for, and won’t take no for an answer, ask what you can let go of. ‘That sounds really interesting, and I’d be happy to do it – but that means I won’t be able to submit the report by Friday. So let me know what you want me to prioritise.’

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49 Ways To Say No To Anyone (When You Don’t Want To Be A Jerk)

So how do you say no, no, no all the time without being (or feeling like) a jerk? Here’s the short version: just don’t be a jerk. You have every right to say no without feeling guilty, and as long as you don’t do it in a nasty way, you’re not a jerk. Plain and simple. Here’s a great tip:

And if you’re not saying no to most things, lemme tell ya: you’re not doing yourself any favours. In a world where everything is finite, you should be prioritising like crazy. Saying yes to everything is the fastest way to burn out. But I’m not here to tell you why you need to say no (that’s for another article) – I’ll assume you’re here because you want to know how to say it. And that’s a whole other story. The good news is that there are many ways to say no (word on the street is that there are at least 49). So without further ado, let’s get into it:

Why it’s important to say no


  • Prevent burnout.Burnout is becoming an increasingly big problem for modern-day employees. Working too hard for too long can cause a backlog of fatigue. This jeopardizes both mental and physical health.
  • Build and maintain strong and healthy relationships. Clear boundaries and mutual respect are both indicators of a healthy relationship. You can keep the relationships in your life strong by setting boundaries and respecting others.
  • Always saying yes can prevent you from achieving yourpersonal goals. Even the most successful people know where their limitations lie. You can’t achieve your goals with minimal energy. Keep your dreams intact by taking care of your body and mind.
  • Be realistic about your capabilities. Sometimes, willingness is not the issue. You may not have the right skills and abilities for what is being asked of you at work. This alone is a valid reason to decline a request.
  • It’s an important part ofself-care.Taking time to yourself allows for higher energy levels, more focus, and an improved state of mental health. Saying no to extra work when you know you need a break is a courageous act of self-care.

How to politely decline – 6 tips

1. Be concise and clear

“If you want something done, ask a busy person.” This famous proverb shows how being a responsive worker who takes over tasks easily can lead you to requests piling up in your inbox. That’s why it’s so important sometimes to reject assignments and opportunities that are not top of your priority list.

If you have to say no – be clear. You don’t want to keep your counterpart wondering, especially if the task at hand is time-sensitive. Not even taking the time to sit down and decline in an email can seem thoughtless and can close the door for future collaborations (see tip 4). But there’s a difference between being concise and being rude.

2. Kill them with Kindness & Be Polite

Some people are scared to seem “rude” or “unhelpful” when saying no. You can easily get that kind of reputation if you answer so fast and short that it comes off as harsh. But saying no can be graceful and even feel empowering to receive your message if you kill them with kindness.

People want to feel seen and appreciated, even when you have to deny them their request. So let the other person feel good about themselves! You might have heard of a “shit sandwich” when giving feedback to an employee, but it also works perfectly when you have to say no. A shit sandwich works simply: You start on a positive note “This sounds like an interesting event”), tell them the bad message (“But unfortunately I won’t be able to attend as a speaker.”), and end with kindness (“I’m sure you’ll have a successful conference in any case!”)

3. Give your Reasons – but without giving an opening

You might want to explain to the other person why this particular weekend or week doesn’t work. Providing a brief explanation can let the other person know that it’s not neglect but that you are simply unavailable. However, you don’t need to feel compelled to offer your reasons if the person is a taker, aka someone who takes your arm when you give them a hand.

In the first version, you risk the other person trying to talk you into helping anyways (“If this week doesn’t work, we can always do next week.”). In contrast, the second one clearly closes the door. Another simple solution is to write, “I will let you know when and if I can.” It changes the power dynamic and lets you reach out tothemwhen you have an opening instead of having them knocking on your door every day.

4. Keep the Door open

Sometimes you have to say no, so you can say yes at the right time. For example, you might have to say no to a project that doesn’t fit your current career goals, so you can give an empowered yes when the right project ends up on your desk.

You don’t want to burn bridges by declining an offer. A good relationship with your network is key in accelerating your career, so occasionally, you want to keep the door open when you say no. “I’m unavailable right now” or “I don’t have the capacity at the moment” are simple phrases to indicate that you’re open for a similar opportunity in the future.

Use these formulations with care because you don’t want to give the other person false hope that your no could eventually turn into a yes. When your no is flexible and malleable, it can seem unreliable or dishonest. At the same time, it’s reasonable to state that while the answer may be no today, things could change in the future.

5. Refer them to an Alternative

A simple referral can be a huge help for your counterpart. Introducing them to another person that can take over the job or that is even more suitable for the task can be worth taking your time, especially with people you work with long term.

Even suggesting another time in your own calendar can be a compromise you can agree on. If you get the same requests repeatedly, you can collect a document with your most common referrals (books, people, courses, etc.) to make it easier for you. If you want to learn how to connect two people, check out our blog post “How to introduce two people over email.”

6. Understand people’s strategies

“The pushy ones” usually get what they want in life. You might have experienced this yourself: You hired the freelancer who checked in again and again, not because they are better but because they were persistent. People have their strategies to get what they want. If you want to avoid signing up for things that do not move you forward in your career or business, you need to be aware of these strategies – especially when it comes to sales.


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