How to say no

Finding ways to budget your involvement. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Today’s story is about saying no.

For some people, it’s easy. They set boundaries, know their limits, refuse to take on too much.

For others, it’s tougher. They find themselves agreeing to things they don’t really want to. (The “why” behind this is another question.)

I also think there’s a third group: People who have a hard time saying no, but who also never quite say yes, either.

Writing on CNBC.com, Juliet Funt, founder and CEO of a boutique efficiency firm, Juliet Funt Group, and the author of A Minute to Think, recently shared a series of five go-to phrases that allow you to set limits without ever having to actually use the word, “no.”

Here’s what she came up with:

1. “May I take a day to get back to you?”

I like this one to start, in part because I often wind up taking that day—or two or three—without ever asking or letting the other person know.

But it seems smart to put it this way: let them know you received the request and you value it enough to reply…without actually committing to anything. I suppose that, technically, you haven’t even committed to getting back to them, although it’s implied.

2. “I can do it for you this time, but I can’t do it for you every time.”

This seems like the grown-up, non-parental analogy to when my daughter asks me if we can do something that I don’t think is a good idea, and instead of having the debate at the time, I reply, “Well, we’ll see.”

She knows that probably means “no,” or at least that I’m trying to find a way to offer what we might call a “limited yes.” Similar energy here, only with adults.

3. “It does not [or will not] work for me to ... ”

This one is clever in its obfuscation. It won’t work? What exactly does that mean, except that you’re not going to move heaven and earth to make it happen?

Note that moving heaven and earth is not your responsibility, of course.

4. “I can’t, but here’s another option for you.”

Good one here, too, and commonly used: you’re turning someone down while attempting to be helpful—or at least sharing that you cared enough to think about their issue for a minute or two.

5. “It’s not good for me now, but let’s look ahead in our calendars.”

This one could be dangerous for some people; it’s a polite and hopeful variation on procrastination, or what I like to call, “hitting life’s snooze button.” You’ll have to decide whether it’s better for your mental health and relationships than just saying “no” and being done with it.

Funt also has a paradigm she describes in her article that she calls The Hourglass, explaining how to judge whether you can or should say “no” to any specific request. But I found her list of go-to phrases to be the most useful takeaway.

So, call for comments… what do you think?

Do you have trouble saying “no” to things? Or maybe you don’t say “no” very often, but you don’t think that’s a problem. (Maybe it’s not; who am I to judge?) Also, are there other polite, go-to phrases you’ve found that help avoid getting committed to things without being negative? Let us know in the comments.

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7 other things worth your time

  • The last US soldier to leave Afghanistan was Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division; his departure ends America’s longest war. (WRAL)

  • The last three days of Stars & Stripes, the newspaper for US troops, that were actually delivered in Afghanistan. (Disclosure: I was a Stripes reporter back in 2010-2012.)


Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Pixabay. (I kind of love that the filename for this photo was just, “teenager.jpg.”) Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.