The goal is to convey two things: I can’t accommodate that request and I still value this relationship. These seven tips will help you master a good no.
If you are a people-pleaser by nature, practice in low-stakes settings, suggests psychologist Melissa McCreery. Set a goal that you are going to say no three times a day. No, I don’t want to apply for your store credit card. “Like any skill, it gets easier with practice,” she says.
Have a Go-to Phrase.
A rehearsed script can head off panic when you are put on the spot. “Thank you so much for thinking of me. I’m sorry, but I have other commitments then, so I’m not available” will dispatch many of the requests thrown your way.
Take a Pause.
Some decisions are easy. Yes: Watching a friend’s kid during a family emergency. No: Pet-sitting the neighbor’s corn snake. On the fence? “It’s OK to say you’ll get back to someone and take 24 hours,” says etiquette coach Maralee McKee.
Try “Yes, No, Yes.”
Negotiation expert Sheila Heen recommends sandwiching the no: Yes to the relationship (Tim is such a fun kid!); no to the request (I’m sorry we can’t host him all weekend while you’re away); and then yes to something that you can offer instead (I’m happy to give him a ride to hockey on Sunday, if that helps).
Say “I Don’t,” Not “I Can’t.”
It’s a simple shift, but it suggests that your refusal is based on your strongly held position and is nothing personal. I have a policy that I don’t lend money to friends.
Keep It Brief.
“Long answers give the asker more loopholes to come back at you,” says social psychologist Susan Newman. “Your brother can say, ‘If you can’t help me move on Saturday because of your hair appointment, let’s do it Sunday!’” After you’ve said no—this is crucial—don’t start waffling. (Are you OK about this? Ask me again if you can’t find anyone else.)
We often think that we’re protecting people’s feelings by concocting an excuse. (I would love to come to your party, but my in-laws are in town.) “There’s no need to be that specific. And because you lied, you now do have something to feel guilty about,” says Heen. Plus, you set yourself up to have to lie again. (How was that visit?) It’s likely, in our Instagram age, that you’ll be busted anyway.