How to Say No Politely Without Feeling Guilty (Tips & Examples) (2024)

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Why is it so hard to say no?

When you should say no

Why it’s important to say no

10 different ways to say no

Helpful tips on how to say no

How to decide when to say no

N.O. No. Two simple letters. One simple word.

But why is it sometimes so difficult to say no?

For many people, saying no is packed with guilt. Maybe you’re afraid of disappointing someone. Maybe you’re anxious to turn down your boss. Or maybe you’re a people pleaser.

No matter the reasons, learning how to say no is an important skill for your personal health and well-being. Our time and energy are precious resources that we should use wisely. And that means we can’t do everything.

Let’s explore how to say no in different situations and why declining certain requests is sometimes better than saying yes.

Why is it so hard to say no?

For some adults, the inability to say no stems from childhood. From an early age, children are taught to be polite and forthcoming. If a parent or teacher asked a child to do something, saying no was interpreted as a form of backtalk. In some cases, refusing an adult meant punishment or negative reinforcement.

However, this can cause issues around communication and self-assertion. Being raised to believe that saying no is bad makes it difficult for children to communicate their preferences. For some people, this inability to speak up for themselves continues into adulthood.

Another reason you may find it difficult to say no is if you doubt yourself. With imposter syndrome, you feel like you are not good enough to do the role that you are in.

Because of these feelings, you avoid saying no to others. You are afraid they will think you are unable to perform your roles and responsibilities. It can also make it hard to say no to yourself. You constantly feel that you have to say yes to prove to yourself that you can actually do your job.

How to Say No Politely Without Feeling Guilty (Tips & Examples) (3)

There is also empathy and human nature to consider. We are social creatures that rely on human connection. Because of our need to belong, we are afraid to disappoint others or create conflict.

In a study from the University of Waterloo, people were asked to carry out tasks that went against their ethics. Although they voiced their objections, half the subjects agreed to deface a library book. This was because saying no felt too difficult.

This kind of behavior shows our inherent desire to avoid conflict and keep the peace. But is it possible that our need to be liked can do us more harm than good?

Let’s find out.

When you should say no

If you struggle to say no, learning to identify signs of personal discomfort can help you know when to draw the line.

These five signs indicate you need to say no for your own good.

1. If you feel uncomfortable

Nobody knows your limits better than you do. If you are asked to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, it could be a sign that you need to say no. Take a moment to do some mindful breathing and listen to your intuition.

2. You feel guilty or obligated

In a work situation, it can be particularly difficult to say no. Your job may require you to oblige when superiors delegate tasks to you. But that doesn’t mean your time and energy are less valuable than theirs.

Use your self-advocacy skills to step up and say no. Your decision should not be based on guilt or obligation.

3. When you’re overloaded

If you are overloaded with work, say no to more tasks or projects. Wait until you’ve freed up some time and energy before you take on anything new.

If you are always working long hours, say no to working on the weekend. COVID-19 has drastically increased the number of employees working from home. Research shows that remote employees work longer hours and face a bigger workload than before the pandemic hit.

You may also feel especially overloaded around the holidays, as obligations from both family and work pile up. You likely need to wait until after the holiday season to take on anything new.

Keep in mind that saying no to yourself is just as important as saying no to others. Putting pressure on yourself only adds to your stress and anxiety. Make sure to prioritize your mental health and physical health to avoid burnout.

4. If the request crosses your personal boundaries

When someone asks you to do something that crosses your boundaries, it is important to stop the process in its tracks and say no. Your boundaries are worth standing up for.

5. If you are only saying yes to please someone else

While pleasing others is a natural incentive for performing tasks, it shouldn’t be the only reason you work hard. If pleasing someone else comes at the cost of your own happiness and well-being, it isn’t worth it.

Why it’s important to say no

Let’s go through a couple of reasons why it’s so important to say no.

  • Do less to deliver more. Focus on one thing at a time, and do it well. You can produce much higher quality work when your energy is directed into projects you enjoy.
  • Saying no can benefit your performance and career. Being assertive pays off. It gives you the freedom to pursue projects that are in alignment with your professional goals. And it keeps you on track with your future career plans.
  • It’s important for your mental well-being. Our mental fitness suffers when we bite off more than we can chew. To maintain mental clarity, you need to say no to tasks you know you can’t handle.

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  • Prevent burnout. Burnout is becoming an increasingly big problem for modern-day employees. Working too hard for too long can cause a backlog of fatigue. This jeopardizes both mental and physical health.
  • Build and maintain strong and healthy relationships. Clear boundaries and mutual respect are both indicators of a healthy relationship. You can keep the relationships in your life strong by setting boundaries and respecting others.
  • Always saying yes can prevent you from achieving your personal goals. Even the most successful people know where their limitations lie. You can’t achieve your goals with minimal energy. Keep your dreams intact by taking care of your body and mind.
  • Be realistic about your capabilities. Sometimes, willingness is not the issue. You may not have the right skills and abilities for what is being asked of you at work. This alone is a valid reason to decline a request.
  • It’s an important part of self-care. Taking time to yourself allows for higher energy levels, more focus, and an improved state of mental health. Saying no to extra work when you know you need a break is a courageous act of self-care.

When it comes down to it, the reason saying no is so important is because it protects our best interests.

Whether it’s your physical health, mental health, or psychological health, saying no preserves your inner strength. It paves the way for holistic wellness.

10 different ways to say no

In theory, most of us can grasp the concept of why saying no is so important. However, actually forming the words in real life can be scary and overwhelming.

In moments like these, it can help to have some statements prepared that you can turn to for guidance. These 10 phrases can be used as substitutes for the simple “no” next time you find yourself backed into a corner.

  1. Sadly, I have something else going on.
  2. I have another commitment.
  3. I wish I were able to.
  4. I’m afraid I can’t.
  5. I don't have the bandwidth for that right now.
  6. I’m honored you asked me, but I simply can’t.
  7. Thanks for thinking of me. However, I’m not able to.
  8. I’m sorry, I’m not able to fit this in.
  9. Unfortunately, I already have plans. Maybe next time!
  10. No, thank you, but it sounds lovely.

You do not necessarily owe someone an explanation about why you are saying no. In fact, sometimes, simply saying no and not going into further detail can help you to come across as calmer and more decisive.

Helpful tips on how to say no

Many of us could use a helping hand when it comes to being more assertive. Learning how to say no can be a lifelong journey, but everyone has to start somewhere.

  • Practice saying no. Knowing when to say no takes time and practice. The more often you say no, the easier it will become. Practice assertiveness in all areas of your life until the habit is built into your lifestyle.
  • Communicate your decision clearly. The clearer you are about saying no to someone, the better they will respond. If you are notably unsure about your decision to decline, it could be harder for others to respect your decision. Aim for clarity and simplicity.

How to Say No Politely Without Feeling Guilty (Tips & Examples) (5)

  • Express gratitude for being asked. If someone asks you to do something and you respond with a no, a little bit of gratitude might help soften the delivery. Expressing thanks for being offered a new task will show others you care about their position, too.
  • Take your time to make an informed decision. If you’re uncertain about whether you want to accept a new task, that’s okay. Take your time to consider the pros and cons, and then you can re-enter the conversation with a clear head.
  • Be assertive but respectful. Not everyone who asks you to do something is trying to take advantage of you. They may just be desperate for assistance. If you can’t accept their offer, be respectful in how you communicate with them.
  • Don't beat around the bush. Providing long-winded explanations about why you can’t do something rarely makes things easier. Instead, opt for a short, simple, and straightforward approach to saying no.
  • Understand the power of influencing tactics. Influencing tactics are strategies used to engineer a specific outcome. By gaining a better understanding of how influence works (particularly in the workplace), you can become a stronger and more assertive employee.
  • Seek advice from others. Almost everyone can relate to the dilemma of people-pleasing. Ask your friends and family members if they have any tips. For professional advice, seek help from a mental health professional. They can give you expert guidance on how to say no the next time you feel put on the spot.

How to decide when to say no

Struggling to know if you should say no? It can help to have a mental list of questions to ask yourself when the right choice isn’t yet clear. There’s nothing wrong with taking some time to make the right decision.

How to Say No Politely Without Feeling Guilty (Tips & Examples) (6)

The next time someone asks you to do something, and you’re not sure how to respond, use these questions as a template for gaining insight.

  • Do I have the time and energy to do this?
  • Will saying yes add value to my life?
  • What makes saying “no” important to me?
  • Is someone trying to bully or gaslight me?
  • Am I doing this just to please someone else?
  • Am I being used?
  • Does saying no to this mean I can say yes to something else more important?
  • Am I saying yes just because I am afraid of missing out?
  • Does something more important require my attention right now?
  • Do I need time to rest and recharge?
  • What would need to change about this opportunity to make it a “yes”?

Learn how to say no so that you can say yes to well-being

We all need a little support sometimes. Especially when it comes to managing communication with others. But to be the healthiest, happiest version of yourself, you need to lay down boundaries.

Whether you’re at home or at work, knowing how to say no is a skill you can benefit from for the rest of your life. Prioritizing your needs is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself.

If you need help learning how to say no, reach out to BetterUp. We help individuals realize their potential by building their skills, mindsets, and behaviors. Request a demo to learn more.

Transform your life

Make meaningful changes and become the best version of yourself. BetterUp's professional Coaches are here to support your personal growth journey.

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Published January 7, 2022

How to Say No Politely Without Feeling Guilty (Tips & Examples) (2024)


How to Say No Politely Without Feeling Guilty (Tips & Examples)? ›

Start with something positive, then deliver your 'No', and end with another positive note. This softens the impact of rejection. If your friend asks to borrow money, you could say, "I really appreciate you trusting me enough to ask for help. However, I'm not in a position to lend money at the moment.

How to say no and not feel guilty? ›

Start with something positive, then deliver your 'No', and end with another positive note. This softens the impact of rejection. If your friend asks to borrow money, you could say, "I really appreciate you trusting me enough to ask for help. However, I'm not in a position to lend money at the moment.

What are some ways to avoid feeling guilty when refusing? ›

10 Tips to Reduce Guilt About Saying No
  • Remember: Rejection is a gift. Saying no to someone in some way or another is a very generous thing to do. ...
  • Let go of comparison. ...
  • Take care of yourself. ...
  • Understand the overall picture. ...
  • Be reasonable. ...
  • Be firm, not rigid. ...
  • Be honest, but not cruel. ...
  • Be forgiving of yourself.
Aug 18, 2021

How do you say no but in a polite way? ›

In English conversation, there are several polite ways to say "no" depending on the context and the level of formality. Here are a few examples: "I'm sorry, but I can't." "I appreciate the offer, but I have to decline."

How to express remorse and regret without letting it transform into shame? ›

How to deal with feelings of guilt and regret
  1. Name the emotion. ...
  2. Get clear on the source of your feelings. ...
  3. Apologize and try to make things right. ...
  4. Commit to doing things differently in the future. ...
  5. Work towards self-forgiveness. ...
  6. Talk to someone.
Jul 5, 2023

How to say no without feeling guilty summary? ›

How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty shows you the five simple techniques that will help you say no with finesse in nearly any situation and how to apply two basic principles to minimize guilt about saying no and reduce the likelihood of personal conflicts.In addition, authors Patti Breitman and Connie Hatch provide ...

How to say no without justifying? ›

I can't do that, but I'm happy to do this.” Use this answer when you can cheerfully do a portion of the request, or have something else to offer that doesn't cause you to feel resentful. 5. “I'm flattered to be asked, but my plate is full.

How to be okay with saying no? ›

Nine Practices to Help You Say No
  1. Know your no. Identify what's important to you and acknowledge what's not. ...
  2. Be appreciative. ...
  3. Say no to the request, not the person. ...
  4. Explain why. ...
  5. Be as resolute as they are pushy. ...
  6. Practice. ...
  7. Establish a pre-emptive no. ...
  8. Be prepared to miss out.
Feb 15, 2013

How do you say no to something you've already said yes to? ›

Suggest a new timeline or reschedule the date if you sincerely want to move forward with the commitment you're rethinking. You can leave the possibility of a future yes open by saying something like... “After looking at my calendar, I've realized that I need to change my answer and say no to this for now.

What are the 10 polite expressions used? ›

Being polite in English
  • Can you pass me…? vs Give me… ...
  • Could you give me five minutes? vs Go away. ...
  • Excuse me. vs Move. ...
  • I'm afraid I can't. vs No. ...
  • I would like… vs I want… ...
  • Would you mind…? vs Stop it! ...
  • Can you hold, please? vs Wait.

What is the easiest way to say no? ›

Here are 10 ways for you to say 'NO' in a polite manner:
  • I'm honoured but I can't.
  • I wish there were two of me. ...
  • Sorry, I'm booked into something else right now. ...
  • Sadly, I have something else. ...
  • No, thank you but it sounds lovely, so next time. ...
  • I'm not taking anything else right now.
Apr 19, 2019

How to say no in insulting ways? ›

  1. It's not a priority for me at this time.
  2. life is too short to do things you don't love.
  3. my instincts tell me I'm not suitable for this.
  4. you should do this yourself, you'd be awesome at it.
  5. I would prefer another option.
  6. you're so kind to think of me, but I can't.
  7. sounds great, but I can't commit.
Dec 14, 2018

How do you express remorse examples? ›

> 'Let me tell how sorry I am that this has happened. ' > 'I want to discuss with you what this means for you, but first I'd like to express my regret' > 'I want to discuss with you what this means for your health. ' > 'I'm sorry, this shouldn't have happened.

How to get rid of shame and guilt? ›

How to deal with shame
  1. Accept responsibility for your mistake. Facing what you have done is the first step toward forgiving yourself. ...
  2. Talk about your feelings. It can be really helpful to talk to someone else about how you feel. ...
  3. Find an emotional outlet. ...
  4. Work on your self-talk.

How do you express remorse without apologizing? ›

Stop over apologizing by showing gratitude and support.

Replace apologetic language with appreciative words to be capable and supportive. For example: Say you interrupt someone at work. Rather than saying, “I'm sorry for taking up you time,” try, “I truly appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today.”

How to say no without regret? ›

  1. Know Your 'No'
  2. Be Appreciative.
  3. Say NO to the request… NOT the person!
  4. Explain WHY… thoughtfully.
  5. Offer an Alternative.
  6. Don't Look Back with Regret.

How do you say no without hurting? ›

Examples of How to Say No to People

If you are still struggling to find the right words to say no, you might find some of the following examples helpful: "I'm too busy today. Maybe I can help out some other time." "I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that.

How to say "no" intelligently? ›

50 ways to nicely say "no"
  1. "Unfortunately, I have too much to do today. ...
  2. "I'm flattered by your offer, but no thank you."
  3. "That sounds fun, but I have a lot going on at home."
  4. "I'm not comfortable doing that task. ...
  5. "Now isn't a good time for me. ...
  6. " Sorry, I have already committed to something else.
Jul 31, 2023


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