Saying No Gracefully

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Saying No: How Tos

The truth is, saying no in appropriate situations is healthy. And learning how to say no, while it takes practice, can be done. Here's how:

Evaluate the situation. When you're tempted to say yes to something you feel you're too busy to do, be a little selfish: Take a close look at your situation and weigh its pros and cons for you. If a sick friend, for example, asks you to collect her mail while she's in the hospital, your sense of loyalty to your friend may outweigh the inconvenience of stopping by her house every day. In that case, you may decide to say yes. But if your daughter's school asks you to serve on a less-than-exciting school lunch committee, for example, you may decide that the stress of trying to make it to committee meetings outweighs their benefit for you -- and you may decide to pass.

Realize your time is valuable. Your time is just as valuable as that of the person who's asking you for a favor. If completing that task will take away too much of your time, it's your right to say no.

Give an explanation. When you decline, back up your reasons for saying no. You may explain that while you'd love to help your daughter's school, you have a busy few months coming up and wouldn't be able to give the committee your full attention. Most people will be grateful for an honest explanation and won't challenge you. What's more, they'll respect your decision.

Offer alternatives. Even if you can't honor someone's request for your time right now, let the person know you'll be available for other things in the future. "By giving someone an alternative, you're stressing to them that this one instance isn't indicative of how you'll respond every time they ask you for something," says Dr. Butler. So while you may not be able to stay late at work tonight, explain to your boss that you'd be happy to stay late tomorrow, when you can have time to arrange for childcare. By giving an alternative solution, you'll soften the blow of declining. --Lisa Kovalovich


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