How To Say No (Without Being An Arsehole)

8
How To Say No (Without Being An Arsehole)
Image: Office Space / 20th Century Fox

We aim to please, and so saying “no” to a request can be a hard thing to do. We don’t like to introduce negativity into the conversation, cause a possible confrontation, or have someone think less of us because we don’t agree. That said, it’s often important to turn things down. We can’t do it all. Here’s how you can say no to just about anything without being an arsehole.

If you’re reading this post you probably have a problem saying no — the same problem I used to have until I learned how wonderful not helping people can be. But in all seriousness, saying no is about respecting your own time and making sure you’re not spreading yourself too thin.

Helping people can be great, but if you say yes to everyone who asks you’ll never be able to do it all. You also may find that you’re frequently taking on tasks you don’t enjoy. This isn’t good for anyone, because you’re not going to do your best when you’re unhappy. (Also, you probably don’t like being unhappy.) If you say “yes” too much and “no” too little, you’re probably aware of these issues. But how do you stop? You just need a little forethought and a little confidence in yourself. Here’s what worked for me, plus a handful suggestions from your fellow readers as well.

Understand Your Situation to Avoid the Guilt of Saying “No”



Once you’ve figured out how you feel, it’ll be easier to go with your gut on certain decisions. This way, when someone makes a request you’ll be able to ask yourself “do I want to do this?” and receive a quick answer you can trust. If you’re still not sure, don’t feel pressured to answer one way or the other. Tell the person requesting your help that you need some time to think about it and make sure it’s something you can do. If they’re reasonable, they’ll understand your position and appreciate that you’re putting thought into your decision rather than simply rejecting them outright because you’re not sure.

Make No (Detailed) Excuses


“I can’t go with you on a sewer adventure to find the lost poop of Isaac the Rat King because I have to mow a lawn and paint a wall.”

In this highly unrealistic example, the person requesting your companionship on a gross adventure could offer to help you paint your wall and mow your lawn afterwards — or perhaps even hire someone to do it for you if they were so inclined. Applying this situation to reality, when you provide an excuse you also provide an opportunity for the person requesting your help to try and solve the problem preventing you from helping them. If they really need your help, they’ll continue to try to convince you why you can do what they’re asking. If you truly don’t want to do it, check your excuses at the door.

That said, providing a simple “no” without context can seem a bit harsh. All you have to say is “no, I’m not able to” or “no, I don’t have enough time right now”. Feel free to throw in a “but thank you for asking/thinking of me” if you feel like adding an extra dollop of politeness. Either way, the idea is to avoid excuses and simply give context. Too much information will only lead to problems and demonstrate that you feel guilty about saying no.

When One “No” Isn’t Enough


To stop this, simply let the person know you understand what they want but that you’ve told them no and that answer is not going to change. For example:

“Billy, I know you really want my support for your fight to immortalise Betty White on a Pez dispenser, but I’ve already told you I am not interested in signing the petition and I’m not going to change my mind. Please stop asking.”

While I’m not sure who would refuse to sign that petition, that’s the kind of polite but firm response you need to offer if you really don’t believe that Betty White should be turned into a toy that vomits sugar blocks (or whatever else it is that you’re adamantly against). That should end the requests, but if it doesn’t you should probably remove yourself from the situation because you’re dealing with a very unreasonable person.

Don’t Become a No Addict

There’s one more thing you should always remember: don’t remove “yes” from your vocabulary. Once you start to feel comfortable with saying “no” more regularly and enjoy the free time you’ve regained in your life, you’ll probably be more inclined to say it whenever something you don’t want to do arises. I’m afraid that it is a fact of life that you are sometimes going to have to do things you don’t want to do. Most people don’t enjoy cleaning, but you can’t decline your chores forever. You also may want to, say, help your friends move so they’ll feel more inclined to help you when you ask for their help. These are situations you’re likely aware of, but it’s important to keep them in mind. Sometimes the power of “no” can be overwhelming, so just like with good and evil you need “yes” to balance things out.

What You Said


Our founder Gina Trapani suggests:

I don’t say “No” w/a hard stop. I redirect. “I’m not up for this, but you should talk to so-and-so.” Person almost always grateful.

Jessica Olin suggests politely deferring to someone else:

Turning down a former student who wanted a letter of recommendation, I said: “There’s probably someone more appropriate to ask.”

Finally, if you want to ensure you never get asked again, you follow the simple advice of Mark LaGuardia:

You fart.

But wait, there’s more! Here’s more specific advice on saying no to your boss. Also, here are a few other suggestions. How do you say no? Let us know in the comments.

This post was illustrated by Dana Zemack. Check out more of her stick figure comics and follow her on Twitter.

Comments

  • As a policy, I never say no. Why?

    In the movie Yes Man, Jim Carrey resolves to say yes to everything. In the end, he winds up together with (the newly-available) Zooey Deschanel.

    I’m keeping the faith.

  • For telemarketers, just say “As a matter of policy I/we never do business with firms that use intrusive forms of direct marketing, but thanks for your interest.”

    If they persist, you can say, “The reason is that it shows no respect for my time, so your persistence just confirms the reason why we have this policy. Goodbye.”

    For requests for donations etc, if you already donate elsewhere, you can say “I already donate what I can afford each year to (insert your favorite charity here) so I’m sorry I can’t spare anything at the moment for your cause”

  • I never say “no” without a good reason.
    Good reasons are simple, clear, and align with my personal convictions.
    I feel better following my convictions than helping out some random person or organisations.

    When it comes to saying “no” to a task work, it’s never just “no, thanks”. It’s always “I appreciate your faith in me, but I’m really not capable of that”, “I’ll give it a shot, but I will probably need help”, or “Sorry, but I just can’t fit it in this week. Is it urgent?”

  • I agree with the article that saying no gets easier the more you do it and you should always know why you do it.

    I never used to say no but living in the city I got sick of being stopped and asked for donations or my time for random causes. I learnt to say No and not feel ashamed.

    I now take it a step further, I actually think its wrong for people to stop me in the street as they are actually wasting my time for what I see to be their profit or benefit, I say no firmly but are never rude (Well once to a green peace person but they deserved it that time)

  • No.

    By default, we as humans are programmed to have difficulty saying it. It associates to negative emotion, which in turn makes us feel genuinely uncomfortable.

    No.

    We should not feel ashamed in saying it, in fact, if I say ‘no’ and you are not capable of respecting what I have said, then you are now in fact in violation of my privacy.

    No.

    I should not have to enter into any further negotiation with you, or explain, or justify my decision. Just as you are not going to appreciate me punching you in your big stupid nose for trying to change my mind, I do not appreciate you pushing your point.

Log in to comment on this story!