How to Let Someone Down Easy

Every day, we have to say no to people. Yet turning folks down never seems to get any easier, even if all we’re declining is a simple movie invitation. Here, five experts share their best outs.


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Crack a Joke

When I have to turn someone down, I find that humor defuses a potentially awkward situation and diverts the conversation away from the rejection, whether it’s small or serious. When a good friend recently asked me to take her shift at the school book fair, I said that I would love to but that I already had a hair appointment—and, hey, wouldn’t my new buttery highlights help the kids much more than books would? She laughed and dropped the subject. It never hurts to make someone smile, especially when you need to deliver disappointing news.

Julie Klam is the author of Friendkeeping: A Field Guide to the People You Love, Hate, and Can’t Live Without ($26, She lives in New York City.

Don’t Overestimate Your Importance

While colleagues and friends value your company, it will not be the end of the world for them if you forgo an invitation. People who have a hard time declining others often exaggerate the impact their rejection will have on the other person. Then when they manage to say no, they divulge their guilty feelings or act like they’re intensely burdened by their own response—which succeeds only in making a spurned pal more uneasy. Remind yourself that you’re not ruining anyone’s day by taking care of your own needs and that even if others are disappointed, they’ll probably get over it quickly.

Darcy Lockman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in New York City. She is the author of Brooklyn Zoo: The Education of a Psychotherapist ($27,

Offer Praise

Negative comments aren’t helpful, so when I’m turning a person down for an acting job, I emphasize something besides bad news. I start by explaining why the actor is not the right fit for the particular role. Then I follow that up with something positive, such as complimenting his strong vocal ability. If actors can bare their souls in auditions, then I think I can give them the same respect in return—even if they don’t get cast.

Bernard Telsey is the president of Telsey + Company, a casting company in New York City. He has helped assemble casts for such movies as Sex and the City 1 and 2, the television shows Smash and The Big C, and Broadway productions, such as Wicked, Hairspray, Rent, and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.