How to say no gracefully

Posted on April 29, 2010


Many of my clients tell me that one of the things they struggle with the most in interpersonal relationships is how to set appropriate boundaries. Specifically, how to say “no” to things they do not want to do. Boy, do I know where they’re coming from!

As women, we often strive to please others and we know that saying no to someone’s request will result in not giving the other person what they would like. We say yes to things that we really don’t want to do just to please someone else. Then we feel like crap. When we say yes and we really mean no, we aren’t being authentic. We are not being real. By trying to keep others happy at the expense of our own happiness, we are selling out to ourselves.

Relationships often require compromises. A compromise is not saying no. A compromise is saying: your needs are important and so our mine. Let’s see if we can meet somewhere in the middle. This post is not about how to compromise; that’s a topic for another time. This post is about how to say no to things that you don’t want to do and how to do it gracefully. You cannot always compromise. There are some things people ask of you to which you will need to say “no” in order to respect yourself, your energy, your money and your time.

If you’re like me you may want some solid and specific examples of way you can say no. I usually need a script of some type whenever I’m venturing into territory where I know I’ll have to set some boundaries.  Below are the ways to say no that I’ve found to be most effective.

Please note that people who are not used to hearing you say no may give you a difficult time. (In fact, I would most definitely be prepared for a little bit of an uprising when you say no to someone who is expecting a yes). They may try to guilt trip you or shame you into thinking you have to do something you don’t want to do. They may pull out all the stops and talk about all of the things that they have done for you. Huge masters of manipulation will go for your jugular, something they know you’re really sensitive about, when you say no to them in an attempt to get you to say yes. For example, let’s say you can’t stand Mary. She is rude and mean to your kids. When you tell your family you will not be going to Mary’s party, your sister says, “Just because you lost your job doesn’t mean that you can hole yourself away in your house this weekend while we are all celebrating Mary’s birthday!” THAT’S a master manipulator at work, my friend. They will TRY and make you feel bad for setting your boundaries. Don’t fall for it.

Stand your ground. One of the first premises of building self-respect is learning how to get back in touch with your inner two-year old and learn how to say the word “NO” when you mean it.


-I loved that you invited me. I won’t be coming.

-No, thank you.

-Hmmmmmm. I’ll think about it and get back to you.

-Thank you for offering your services. I’m not interested.

-I can see that it works for you. It doesn’t work for me.

-I know you will not be happy about this. However,  I’m not going to X.

-I understand what you’re saying. My answer is no.

-I’ve given it some thought and my answer is no.

*Empathize with how the person feels and then say no. (ie: It sounds like you’re having trouble finding people to help you move. That’s stressful. I’ve already made plans for the weekend and I won’t be able to help you). *This one is my personal favorite and it works really well.

RESIST the temptation to defend your No with a laundry list of reasons about why you are saying no. This is another trap we women fall into often. Your No by itself is enough.

Soon, I will have a little ebook published about how to say no in a myriad of situations and circumstances. Stay tuned!

Posted in: Love 101