4 Ways to Say “No” with Tact

I used to be one of those perfectionists – never saying “No,” always overextending myself, putting in extra hours, and causing myself heart palpitations. I’ve even landed myself in the ER a few times…the first time before I was 25.

If any of this sounds familiar, you may need some pointers on saying “No” too.

A year ago I watched Dyana Valentine’s Woke Up Knowing video blog where she not only gave permission to say “No,” she encouraged me to write some goals on it and stick to them. So, I took her advice and I’ve been hospital-free ever since!

I started with something small, “No” to the logo for the buddy from college, “No” to the free poster for the incredible benefit concert THIS WEEKEND …and I worked my way up from there.

I am still friends with all the above because I was tactful in declining their project. Do not take on extra burden that could be detrimental to your own health just because you think you may harm the relationship. If you aren’t healthy, how can you have healthy relationships, business or personal?

So, here are 4 ways to say “No” that keep your character and inner self in harmony. And remember, a sincere delivery made with a respectful voice is the best approach.

  1. Start with a Positive: Pick up something that sounds worthwhile about their business or organization or project. Use that as a preface to turning down the job. For example: “Although your non-profit sounds like it does some great community outreach, I cannot afford to do charity work at this time.”
  2. Scheduling Conflict or Budget Constraint: These are probably two of the easiest reasons to decline. “My Schedule has a conflict with that deadline.” Or “I am about to go out of town…” or “I have a conference that week…” or “What kind of budget are you working with? That is outside of my cost. I will have to decline at this time.”
  3. Provide a Solution: If you really have a hard time saying “No.” make a list of other vendors, writers, designers, websites, resources that you could refer someone too. Be prepared when you really need to say no. Then you’ll be ready with a solution and even though you are declining the project, you’ll be helping the other person get their job done. Maybe phrase it like this: “That project would be outside of my expertise, try calling so-and-so. They’ve done some great work in that field.” Or “I don’t trade my services. You may want to contact a local college or university or mentoring program for a student or intern to help out. I suggest…”
  4. Business Goals/Alignment: If you have your annual or quarterly goals in front of you, you’ll know ahead of time what you can add or not add to your project list. Then it is easier to be upfront and say something like“I only take on 1-2 non-profit (or whatever their background) projects a year and I’m already committed.”

Tailor these to fit your natural speech pattern and profession. You might hurt someone’s feelings or cause a little discomfort, but in the end your sanity is the highest priority. So if you need to say “No” more often, make a goal to do so.

Just be gentle, but firm, and never say you are sorry when saying “No.” This has a shaky connotation and you need to stay solid in your delivery and show you value your own time and your decision.

Have more confidence building “No” deliveries? Share them here!

10 thoughts on “4 Ways to Say “No” with Tact

  1. Damien Golden

    Thanks Dyana! It’s almost laughable when I look back. How silly– being so stressed out that I landed myself in the hospital, but sometimes it takes a big wake-up call to change direction. I’m smarter now, pay closer attention, say No more frequently and vacation more –even if it’s just a long weekend!

  2. Gail Darling

    Saying no is a life lesson I learned the hard way. An unfortanetly there are always chance takers who abuse the goodwill of others. Being too kind and not saying no when needed can leave one’s life spinning out of control, resulting in utter exhausting chaos.

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  4. Annie

    Great tips! I also like to ask for all the details up front to make sure that a “quick logo request” isn’t actually an urgent/complicated/huge project. My go-to response: “What are all the details? I’ll have to get back with you.”

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  7. Stan Your Photo Coach

    That was funny about not saying no landed you in the ER! Although I’m sure it’s true…Sorry…had to laugh!

    Here’s another way to say no, especially to last minute requests: “I’d love to help you with this, but it’s impossible for me to produce what you need on such a short deadline. I insist on producing the best quality for my clients, and your deadline just doesn’t allow for me to do that.”

  8. Damien Golden

    No apologies necessary Stan 😉 Yes, unfortunately it was true… twice in the ER. Stress is such a monster. I learned my lesson though and now pay close attention to my inner stress-o-meter! I am now much happier and healthier for it. When looking back, I smile and sometimes laugh at that too b/c really, how silly – to put oneself in such a position to compromise ones health. It is ridiculous!