How to Say No, Politely

When it comes to the most important words in the language, right up there with Thank You, I Love You, Please, and Dinner is Served… is No.

You already know this, but we all (maybe especially us girls) need reinforcement now and then.

I saw this on, a terrific blog I’ve recently discovered, and thought we could use it about now… with all that spring springs on us… Well-written by Jess Lively, of, who writes about living with intention, which is huge. Take it away,  Jess:


Living Well Columnist:
Jess Lively

One of the most transformational skills in our careers (and life) is saying no to requests that do not truly support or inspire us.

Though it’s easy to feel like we need to say yes to people we encounter for various social reasons, this belief is often untrue. We are in charge of what we permit in our lives. Though people may try to ask a lot of us, we are ultimately proactive individuals who determine what we do with our time, attention, and talent.

When an opportunity comes our way, the question is simple: Does this request make me feel excited or further my goals?

If agreeing to the request leaves you feeling resentful and it’s within your power to decline, it’s time to find the best way to say “no.”

Yet the art of saying no can be difficult to attempt, let alone master. As women, it’s easy to feel obligated to say yes to things that we’d rather turn down so that we don’t come off as cold, rude, or insulting.

But when done well, saying no can be far from mean. There is a way to communicate a negative response in a way that leaves the other person feeling valued and heard.

Here are three friendly “no” responses:

Not This Way
Sometimes a request is simply too large for us to take on. Perhaps we don’t have the time, resources, or interest in the entirety of the project.

In these situations it can often be best to simply adjust the request to the parameters we feel more comfortable with. Instead of agreeing to a guest post with 20 in-depth questions, you could ask them to select their top six questions for your interview. Or, perhaps you agree to watch your sister’s child for one day instead of the whole weekend.

Another way to say “not this way” is to refer the person to someone who may be interested in the full scope of their request. If you have a client who can not afford your graphic design rates, you can refer them to two or three other graphic designers who may be able to accommodate their budget.

Not Right Now
Another option when saying no is to say “not right now.”

If you are up to your ears in work during your busy season, it’s completely reasonable to ask for non-time sensitive requests to be approached in three months.

If a non-profit asks for you to donate your services to their charity auction, it is acceptable to politely decline and ask them to check back with you the following year. You aren’t saying no forever, you are saying no at this point in time.

No, Thank You
And last but not least, it is always okay to just say no.

You don’t have to give excuses, rationalizations, or white lies. You just don’t.

However, you can thank them for thinking of you. You can thank them for asking. Something like, “Thank you so much for reaching out and asking me about x, y, and z! Though I will politely decline, I wish you so much success with this exciting new project,” goes a long way.

Sometimes “how” you say no is more important than the no itself. Make sure your no’s are kind, considerate, and as helpful as possible.

This post was contributed by Jess Lively, a consultant and blogger helping people design lives, homes, and businesses with intention on and


  1. Frances, I’ve loved catching up with you through your blog. Love the post today. I’ve found when we can say no, our yeses mean so much more. Happy Easter!
    love, Emily

    1. Amen to that, sistah! So good to hear from you Emily and I am honored you are a reader. Please stay in touch. Love, Frances

  2. Wow, just had to do this today. Was asked to work on a charity committee and nicely declined. I told the chairman that I was taking a break right now and would love to help next year. My husband also made me a sign to hold up that says”NO.”
    xo, Lissy

  3. I have a friend who, when he doesn’t want to do something, says ‘it’s not possible.’ That’s all he says. No excuse, no frantic gibbering about why he can/won’t be doing something, it is just ‘not possible.’ I find that when I say it, people respect my refusal..

    1. Martha, this is genius, thank you. Why we feel this compulsion constantly to explain ourselves is absurd. It’s just not necessary, and sometimes, dare I say, It’s not possible. 🙂

  4. I have found it easier as I get older to say no. When recently asked to do some volunteer work (and I already do some) I did not hesitate to say no , but started out by saying I was flattered they would ask me, but so busy with a new grand child, and working for Morgan, that I couldn’t really do the quality of job for them that I would expect of myself. This is the truth, really, and I know how much I can do now days , being at my limit at this time!! Love the blog as always, Frances, see u soon’

  5. I also have found it easier to say no as I get older and to give priority to those things that are really important to me at this particular stage. But like everyone, I am sometimes up to my elbows in those yeses…loved theses suggestions!!

  6. Excellent timing and excellent post. I forwarded this on to many friends who will benefit from reading it. Saying no is so hard, yet is often essential to your health and well-being.

    1. Thank you Miss Maili ad Miss DesignChic. Saying no is essential, you are right, and like Emily said below, it makes the yeses mean that much more. It also gives us room for the yeses we really want to say.

  7. Hello Francis — marvelous advice from your friends and readers! As you know, I exemplify the “oh yes, let me” volunteer!! But I learned a great response from my kind mother who has been a devoted community servant: when asked to do something that she would like to politely decline, Mama would say “thank you for asking, but let’s give someone else the opportunity to be involved” !! Pointed gentility that we can all benefit from… ! XXX, Caroline

    1. Thank you Caroline! And we’ll add this tonoir trove of marvelous advice. Thanks to your mama as well. Xof

  8. You are always so timely and on spot. I said no to a friend today and thought of calling back to say yes because I felt so guilty. Thanks for all of your life’s lessons.

    1. Please don’t feel guilty, Maureen. Know that your saying no also gives others permission to say no to what is not great for them and yes to what is. Think of your no as shining a light for others to see, and I, for one, thank you for it.

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