How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

Your neighbor needs help moving; Your co-worker asks if you can take on some of their project; the school needs more volunteers; your friend needs a babysitter. So many requests, so little time. When someone makes a request of us, it can be challenging to say, “no.” This often leads to decisions that don’t benefit us. We may agree to the request, but sacrifice our own needs or wants. If the request is made through email, we could ignore it altogether, but this doesn’t fair well for our reputation.

So how do we say “no” without feeling like a jerk? While not 100% guilt-proof, there are a few ways that we can decline a request without feeling as guilty about it.

Use Your Calendar – One of the easiest times to say “no” is when we have something else we’re committed to. For example, when you tell your friend in need of a babysitter that while you’d love to help, your niece’s recital is that night, you don’t feel so bad.  Yet, we tend to only put things in our calendar that are outside our normal routine. For example, if you go to the gym 3 nights a week, is that in your calendar? Probably not. Scheduling important-to-you tasks should be part of your calendar. While you may have some flexibility, like skipping the gym to help your neighbor move, and just making it up tomorrow, you may not always have that flexibility. For example, if it’s important to your family that you have quality Sunday morning time, this should be blocked off as “Unavailable” in your calendar. It’s much easier to say, “I’d love to, but my calendar is booked that day.” People tend to respect the fact that you have other commitments. You don’t have to get into the details of what those commitments are.

Offer an Alternative – A clear cut “no” is not always the best choice either. In the case of the friend looking for a sitter, you could say, “I can’t on Friday, but I could on Saturday, if that helps.” Or to the co-worker looking for you to take on some of their project, you could say, “I don’t think that will work, but I’m happy to cover your calls for the afternoon so you can have uninterrupted time to work on your project.” These are compromises that may be mutually beneficial.

How to Say It – Then there are the times you just have to say “no.” These are tougher because you’re not blaming your calendar and you don’t have a compromise to lighten the situation. This is common when someone is requesting our business services or products for free. So how do you say it? You can be direct and honest if you think that will help the situation, but more often than not, when someone needs you for something, it isn’t the best time to point out that they never seem to be available when you need help. Being vague can be the best way to decline, while staying polite, but firm. Here are some examples:

  • I’m sorry, I wish I could help, but I just won’t be able to make that work.
  • Thank you for thinking of me, but I can’t right now. Will you ask me again next time?
  • I’m sorry, I’m going to have to pass.
  • I have to decline now, but if something changes I’ll be sure to let you know.

Remember, when you say “yes” to one thing, you’re saying “no” to another. You need to stay in control of your life and activities. If you’re constantly at the mercy of requests and favors, it won’t be long before resentment starts keeping regular hours with you. And that’s not good for anyone!!

While it would be great to single-handedly fulfill every request that comes your way, that just isn’t possible. You have to keep a manageable balance between achieving your own goals and helping others to achieve theirs.

Your turn – what’s a method you use to say “no” without feeling guilty? Share in the comments section!

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  1. This is such a great post that I think many struggle with. I was just discussing the art of saying no with someone last night! These are some really good points I hadn’t thought of.

  2. This is such an important topic, and many of us don’t really understand the implications of not saying NO. These are great suggestions for taking the sting out of standing your ground and putting yourself first!

    • Cachet, you nailed it! There are ALWAYS implications for not saying “no,” and sometimes they’re minor and sometimes they’re not. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  3. Your posts are always so well written. I love it. I’m still working on saying no to some things myself, but it seems to be getting very easy to me now. 🙂 Anyway, great post!!!

  4. I usually say, “Someone has already beaten you to the punch, maybe next time.” I have found if a request for my time is asked ahead of time, I can work things out. But if someone “last minutes” me (unless it’s an emergency) that is when I don’t feel guilty about saying no

  5. Say “No” is really important and most problems start with saying “yes” frequently and saying “”too slow. I feel guilty to say no at first, but then I learned that we have right to refuse, and from that on I have never felt uncomfortable to say no.

    • Great point, Erin. We DO have the right to refuse. Saying “yes” too often leads to burnout and half-assery (new word). Thanks for sharing!! 🙂

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