Some people find it so easy to say “no.” Honestly, it’s a skill. Being able to say no, to set firm boundaries on your time is incredibly important. You can’t be productive or make serious progress towards your goals if you always say “yes.” You’ll keep getting pulled into obligations that aren’t supporting your mission.
For many of us, saying no is hard. We feel pressured like we’re supposed to say yes to avoid creating a conflict. It’s especially hard because if your answer is really “I just don’t want to,” people will see it as rude and aggressive. They expect you to have a legitimate excuse.
Learning how to say no and set proper boundaries is life-changing. You won’t have to go to that party you never actually wanted to attend, or do that favour that has nothing in it for you. You won’t be pressured into doing things you don’t want to do.
From all of this, you’ll have more time and energy to direct towards your real goals. You’ll have the courage to do whatever you want to do. You’ll take control over your time and live life the way you want to live it.
Before I started practicing these 4 phrases, I was a “yes man”.
Frankly, it was killing me. I was always pulled into things I didn’t want to do, which would end up making me unhappy. I was unhappy doing those things I didn’t want to do and with my decision to say yes in the first place.
But with my new boundaries set and the strength to say no, I was able to get my time and life back. I hope that using these 4 phrases can do the same for you too.
“Let me get back to you”
When to use it: if you are honestly interested but prefer to think about it first.
People will sometimes ask you something that you might legitimately be interested in. For example, you’re invited out for Saturday night drinks with your friends and would like to go.
Unfortunately, a lot of people cave and default to a yes in this situation to please the person who’s asking. But if you do this, and then back out later because you don’t feel like going, you look like the bad guy. Going back and forth on your word comes across as rude and disrespectful.
Using the phrase “let me get back to you” allows you to deflect and plan things out before making a decision. You might be interested, but want to give the idea some thought before committing your time.
By telling the person that you’ll get back to them, you’re politely pushing the decision to a later date. They won’t be offended by this since you’ve given them a heads up that you need more time to decide, rather than saying yes and then backing out later. You can then take the time you need to make the decision on your time, without the pressure of giving an immediate answer.
“I can’t add anything to my plate right now”
When to use it: if someone asks you for a favour that you don’t want to do.
People ask for favours all the time because they think they can get away with it.
And they’re right.
A lot of people cave and do the favour just to be “nice,” even if there’s nothing in it for them. Colleagues at work will ask you to do some of their work. Friends will ask you to cover their bill at a restaurant or do some work at their house. It’s their work, but they know if they ask you, you’ll just say yes.
By using the phrase “I can’t add anything to my plate right now,” you’re saying no and giving them a valid reason. A direct no or just saying “I can’t” would have been impolite and resulted in more follow up questions. They’d ask “why?” or “well what are you doing that day?” They can push you into a corner to get you to give up and say yes.
Saying that your plate is full is a much stronger answer. You’re implying that you already have other obligations — people will always respect that.
Whether you do or don’t have those obligations doesn’t really matter. The point is that you’ve given the other person an answer that’s perfectly legitimate, doesn’t warrant any follow-up questions, and gives a valid reason for your “no”.
“It’s not my thing, but thanks for inviting me”
When to use it: if someone invites you to something you’re not interested in.
This is the phrase to use when it’s a no for you now and in the future.
If your co-workers keep inviting you out for coffee, but you don’t drink coffee, then you shouldn’t need to say yes just out of obligation.
By using the phrase “it’s not my thing, but thanks for inviting me,” you’re communicating to your co-workers “sincerely, thanks for the invite, but I don’t drink coffee.” You’ve politely turned them down but also thanked them for the invitation. This is important because you’re communicating that you appreciated their effort and aren’t just saying no because you don’t like them. People like to know that you’re not just giving them a b.s excuse and are genuine with your intentions.
Everyone has certain preferences, likes and dislikes. People understand that and it’s not rude to make yours firmly known. People will appreciate your honesty. Then, if you do say yes to something else, they’ll know that you’re being honest with them and won’t just back out later. Your word is honest and will always mean a lot.
“. . . . . . . . .”
When to use it: if it’s a hard no, especially when the person keeps pressuring you for an answer.
Silence is a secret weapon for saying no in any situation. It’s like giving people “the hint” while putting the pressure back on them to withdraw their invitation.
Let’s say a colleague asks if you to handle a bit of extra work for them because they need to leave early on Friday. If you were to try to respond to this, you’d have to come up with some excuse as to why you can’t do it. Even if you did, they could continue laying the pressure on with more follow-up questions.
Instead, just stay silent.
Pretend you’re thinking hard about it.
But don’t make a single sound.
Always remember this: the person who talks first, loses. If you stay silent long enough, your colleague will eventually withdraw. They’ll either give up completely with a “nevermind it’s OK, I’ll ask Mike instead,” or will ask you a different, weaker question like “do you have something else to do?” If they ask you the second question, you can easily respond with the “I can’t add anything to my plate” response. Or, even better, just continue staying silent, pretending that you’re thinking about something else.
People feel pressured by silence. It creates a sort of fake tension in the room. You can use this to your advantage by creating silence yourself. You stay perfectly comfortable in the silence, but it gets the other person thinking. Eventually, they just move on because they would rather just have an easier target.
Having the strength to say no to things you don’t want or like is an important life skill. You’re setting honest boundaries so you can choose how you spend your time. Here are 4 phrases to practice saying no:
- “Let me get back to you”: When you might be interested but can come up with the best answer by having more time to think about it
- “I can’t add anything to my plate right now”: When you’re not interested and need an excuse as to why
- “It’s not my thing, but thanks for inviting me”: When you wish to politely decline a perfectly friendly invitation, now and in the future
- “……..”: Absolute silence, when you want to give a firm rejection to an overly aggressive request