The Ultimate Guide To Saying No To Things You Don’t Want To Do

Many of us say yes to things that we don’t want to do simply because we don’t know how to say no. Problem solved.

The Ultimate Guide To Saying No To Things You Don’t Want To Do
[Photo: Flickr user Caleb Roenigk]

No. Not happening. Not on your life. Not now. Not ever.


If only saying no was always this easy. Sometimes it’s downright uncomfortable and difficult, so we say yes when we really want to say, “NO!”

“Declining a request is a balancing act,” says Leslie Shore, author of Listen to Succeed: How to Identify and Overcome Barriers to Effective Listening. “The decliner must take a moment and compose their reason for declining in a way that lets the asker know that the decline is final.”

The key is to phrase your answer with sincerity and respect, with words that fit the situation.

Saying No To A Coworker

In business, the reason for no often has to do with workload, quality and priorities–reasons that are hard for an asker to challenge. If someone who in equal or lower hierarchy makes a request that you need to decline, Shore suggests responding with:

“Thanks for asking me, but I have enough on my plate and cannot take on anything else at this time,” or “Thanks for the offer, but as I am busy, perhaps [coworker] could help you, as he has the skills you need.”

Saying No To Your Boss

If the request comes from your direct supervisor, saying no can be a little harder. Shore says your answer should also include a request for help or a reason that goes beyond your workload. For example, you can say:


“I’m flattered that you thought of me for this, however, my plate is full and I cannot take on anything else unless you want to change the priorities of my current projects,” or, “I appreciate being asked, but given my current workload, the quality of my product would suffer if I took this on right now.”

Another way to decline your boss’s request is to say no to right now and suggest a different timeframe, says David A. Ward, communications lecturer at the Wisconsin School of Business. “For example, ‘There’s no give in my schedule for the rest of this month, but things ease up for me in March, and I’d be glad to get involved then if you still need some help on this.’”

Saying No To Social Plans

In your personal life, the reason for no has to do with boundaries and respect, says Shore. For example, declining an invitation doesn’t need to be overthought; it takes a simple response. “Thanks for thinking of me, but I have plans,” should be sufficient, she says.

If you think the person will push back, offer an airtight excuse, suggests Ward. For example, “I will out of town on that date,” or, “That’s the same weekend my nephew is getting married.”

Sometimes including an apology can soften the blow. “Many professionals flee from the A word, but it’s a less taboo maneuver than it used to be,” says Ward. “A heartfelt and humble expression of regret might end an overeager request.”

If All Else Fails

Sometimes people say yes when they’re caught off guard. Two good sentences to remember are: “I’m sorry, I’ll have to check a few things before I can give you an answer,” or, “I’m not sure if I can do that. Can I get back to you?” says Shore.


“Both of these allow you to defer to a definitive no while you prepare your reason,” she says. “Respect dictates you get back to the person who asked, but at least you will have an answer with which you feel comfortable.

“It is well within your right to just say no with no reason why. A simple, ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t,’ may be preferable, especially in situations where the request is time sensitive.”