Posted by

Victoria Lagodinsky

March 14, 2014

how to say no and keep your friends
Just say no!

It should be straightforward. Someone asks you to do something, you don’t want to do it, and you say so. Simple. Oh, if only! Try these 8 ways of not saying ‘yes’ which get your point across firmly so you feel nicely confident and in control and demonstrate respect and understanding of the other person.

1.The power of the pause

Giving an immediate reply can be a recipe for disaster. There are all kinds of reasons why we rush in with an ill advised ‘yes’ – we’re in a hurry, it’s easier to shut them up and sort it out later, we think whatever they are asking sounds all right … then later we realise just what we have committed to. On the other hand, if you rush in with an automatic no, you may regret it. Check your gut reaction to the request and also try to pinpoint the reason for your negative reaction.

Get into the habit of the automatic pause. This strategy will keep you out of all kinds of trouble.

2. Be receptive

As you pause, listen and give the appearance of listening. Raise your eyebrows a bit, nod and smile just a little. Even if you don’t like what you are hearing, it matters enough to the other person to have made them ask, and in some circumstances someone might have plucked up a lot of courage to approach you with a request. So it doesn’t hurt to be gracious.

3. Repeat the request

This gives you a little more time and confirms that you have heard correctly.

• ‘So you want me to come over and look after the kids right now.’

• ‘Right, you’d like me to take on Jason’s workload while he’s on holiday.’

• ‘So you’re asking me to sponsor you to run a marathon.’

4. Control your body language

Even if your heartfelt reaction is that you would rather have some grisly form of medieval torture than do what’s being asked, don’t let this show on your face. Don’t smile encouragingly, as this will give the wrong impression, but don’t frown and shake your head as the person is speaking. Keep your expression serious and immobile and nod just once to show understanding, not agreement. Make sure your voice is neutral, not heavily or even lightly sarcastic.

5. Get the details

Sometimes we are so eager to be nice and obliging that we say yes to a request when we have hardly even taken in the details of what has been asked. In our desire to be seen as Ms Can-Do or Ms Everyone’s-Friend we make it almost a point of honour not to be fazed by a request.

So we open our mouths before engaging our brains and find we have agreed to go on a hen night that turns out to be a weekend in a spa hotel in Dubrovnik, to child-mind on a day when we had other plans or to make cupcakes for the fund-raiser when we thought we were just helping out at a stall.

You could ask:

•  ‘How much time do you think would be involved?’

• ‘What exactly do you want me to do?’

• ‘What kind of support is available?’

That way, you know what will be involved, and you can then decide whether you want to get involved or not.

6. Apologize

A brief, sincere ‘sorry’ is absolutely the right thing in most circumstances. But don’t grovel and don’t embellish the word with qualifiers about just how sorry you are – ever so, really, awfully. Just don’t say them. This isn’t a heartfelt expression of deep regret, it is just social shorthand that keeps encounters smooth and courteous.

7. Show understanding

You have already repeated the facts or checked that you have understood. Now, where appropriate, show that you understand the person’s situation and why the request is being made. This statement might begin with a phrase such as:

• I understand that … you are stuck for someone to look after the kids.

• I agree that … the cinema and a pizza are an option.

8. The ‘no’ word

Then you say no. There are different ways of indicating refusal, but if you have any doubt at all about your ability to get your point across, make sure the actual word ‘no’ is spoken. Many people will be all too ready not to hear it.

• ‘I can see that you’re stuck for a sitter, and I’m sorry about that, but I’m afraid it has to be a no.’

• ‘I appreciate your thinking of me and it does sound like an interesting evening. However, I’m going to have to say no.’


Other phrases for ‘no’ are:

• I’m going to pass on this occasion.

• Sorry, not this time.

• Thanks, but no thanks.

• Thanks, but not this time.


Being able to say ‘no’ is an important part of being more assertive, but why would anybody want that? Here’s 7 Reasons Why You Should Be More Assertive.

And you can find lots more practical exercises and examples from Mary in The Smart Girl’s Guide to Getting What You Want. Mary is a writer and personal development coach who leads workshops and training courses. Packed with humour, it is a book you will want to treasure and turn to time and time again.
Mary Hartley shows the modern women how to be graceful, witty and assertive
The Smart Girl’s Guide to Getting What You Want

256 pages • £7.99

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