How To Say 'No' In Three Sentences

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
how to say no assertive women
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We’ve all been there: The “opportunities” are pouring in, but we are already overwhelmed, exhausted and frustrated. We know we don’t have room on our plate for one more thing, even if it is for a good reason, such as volunteering to help run our child’s school book fair.

Sometimes we feel obligated to say yes, letting guilt get the best of us, when our bosses present us with “growth opportunities” (aka more work but not more pay) or costumes are needed for the school play (all the other parents are helping!). Many women are afraid to say no, even if it’s the best answer, because saying no means confrontation, perhaps disappointing someone else, or not meeting the asker’s expectations. So we say yes, because it’s easier, it saves face, and it’s the nice thing to do.

Then regret sets in. Why did I agree to be the PTA vice president? Why did I offer to help watch my friend’s toddler a few hours a week? We are filled with dread and loathing, and a bad attitude quickly sets in, by our own choosing.

The longer I’m a mother and the more I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve become increasingly good at saying no, and let me tell you, it feels really good. The more I say no, the more free and fulfilled I am. It’s taken some practice, a few mishaps, and some restless nights, but I’m finally at the point where I can decline with grace and confidence.

When I’m presented with an opportunity, I usually ask myself these questions before I respond:

– Do I have the time, energy and possibly finances to right now take part?

– Is this project something I’m excited about?

– Is this something I’m good at? Does it allow me to use my gifts and talents?

– Is it important?

– Will it give or take?

– Will it benefit my family? My career?

– How long is the commitment?

When you are considering an opportunity, it’s so important to be prompt. Nothing is more frustrating for a person than receiving a “maybe” in a situation that needs a clear “yes” or “no.” Some projects take weeks, months, even years to plan, and having an uncommitted party brings unnecessary stress, frustration and energy-depletion from the asker. It’s reasonable to take a few days (in some cases, a few weeks) to make a decision. Let the asker know that you received the request and when you will respond by, and then stick to your promise!

Here is how to say no in three sentences:

1. Show Gratitude

The asker obviously saw your potential and your past successes, and chose you to be a potential participant. Before you say no, express your gratitude. You can say something like, “I was so honored to receive your e-mail.” Or more simply, “Thank you for thinking of me for this opportunity.” Being grateful is always classy.

2. Leave Out the Details

You may have turned down the opportunity for a number of reasons: It doesn’t appeal to you. It requires a major time commitment. It’s expensive. However, you need not offer up an explanation. In saying why you are declining, you give the asker the opportunity to debate, to mull over your reasons, and consider why they aren’t valid, to persist in asking again and again. A simple, “I cannot commit at this time” or “I regrettably cannot say yes” is sufficient.

3. Keep the Door Open

Perhaps the answer is no at this point in time. Or perhaps the opportunity isn’t for you, but another opportunity that is right for you will arise in the future. Be sure to add a third sentence in which you say, “Please keep me in mind for the future” or “Please stay in touch!” Don’t be afraid to send a follow-up message when you may have the time, energy and passion to say yes.

There are many benefits to saying no. And if you need to, map out those reasons to keep you confident and grounded when you do opt to decline an opportunity. For one, you are personally more happy, peaceful and calm. You also leave time and energy to say yes to the things that bring you joy and personal fulfillment, as well as to the necessities such as patiently helping your daughter with her homework or attentively and wholeheartedly cheering for your son at his basketball games without being tethered to your phone, checking desperate e-mails from the PTA president.

Being present is the best gift you can give yourself and those people and things that truly matter most.

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