How to say "no" with grace

I recently received a question from a co-worker who has a "yes" problem.

Can you bake 4 dozen cupcakes for a fundraiser tomorrow? Can I borrow your truck? Can you babysit my kids tonight? Can you come to the party? If you find yourself saying “yes” to questions like these and then regretting your answer, you are not alone. Declining an invite or request might feel rude or aggressive, however, it can be the most considerate thing you can do. Here's how to put "no" back in your vocabulary.

No instant answers

Take time to respond. While you should answer promptly, think about the request, your options, and other obligations. If you don't have the time, energy, or desire to do something, don't.

Appreciate the opportunity

Start with the positive, “I appreciate you thinking of me, but I don’t think I can help.”

Be honest

While you aren’t obligated to give a reason for declining, giving one can make you and the other person feel better about the situation. Make sure your reason is 100% true and avoid excuses.


Listen to the other person’s response. People appreciate empathy, “Darn, I understand you’re behind on rent, I’d help you if I could.”

Stop talking

Don't drag out the conversation, be polite and brief.

Set expectations

Adding an honest time frame to your response can leave it open for another time " I have given my budgeted dollar amount to charity already this year, please let me know if I can help you next year," or close the door "Unfortunately, I'm not able to help you. I hope you find someone who can."

Breaking free from your tendency to people-please allows you the time and energy to be more authentic and participate fully. People will respect rather than expect your "yes".

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