Three Ways to Nicely Say No Without Feeling Guilty

You start to say no, but yes slips out. Yes seems to be your preset button because with every no you feel guilty. Here are three ways to nicely say no without guilt.

Three Ways to Nicely Say No Without Feeling Guilty

By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

I like nice! I want to be nice. I want you to think I’m nice. I want to be around nice people.

I bet you feel the same way.

Not too many of us want to be thought of as the grouch of the family, office, or neighborhood. And most of us think that a good way to achieve niceness, perhaps even a mandatory element for it, is saying yes often.

A yes slips off our tongue before we have the chance to stop it even if internally we’re shouting “No!” and slamming on our inner brake pedal trying to stop ourselves from agreeing to something we don’t want to do.

And yet, there we go again saying yes to help out on a project, cause, or program that, even though we might care about it, we know is going to add more to our crowded schedules and bulging to-do lists.

It might be saying yes to something that isn’t so time consuming but isn’t right for you at the moment like: babysitting at the last minute, going out after work with coworkers, entertaining a neighbor who shows up unannounced, or giving free advice to people who are peppering you with questions at a party even though they know the information they’re asking for is what you bill your clients for hourly.

So Why Is It That We Say Yes So Often?

Part of it is that we’re programmed to. It goes back to childhood. When Mama asked us to do something, we were taught to say yes.

Later, our friends asked us to join them, and if you wanted to be liked in fourth grade, you said “sure” and ran to play on the monkey bars with the kids who invited you.

Fast-forward fifteen years, and we’re saying yes to every request at our new job because we want to be a team player, attract the attention of the boss, and expand our skill set.

Socially, we say yes because we don’t want to let people down and sometimes because we feel trapped. We feel bad that we’re not helping when Patty the PTA Nazi assures us everyone else is pitching in their time, money, talents, labor, or whatever the case may be. We also say yes because it’s easier than saying no, and we’d rather deal with our negative feelings than other people’s nagging comments, judging stares, and possible gossip if we say no to their request.

So, are we doomed to a life as yes men or women? Is there a way we can nicely say no without feeling guilty or gaining the reputation of grumpy Gertrude or no-help Ned?

Absolutely there is! Join me as I show you how.

Three Ways to Say No Nicely Without Feeling Guilty!

1. Be True to Yourself, Your Convictions, and Your Priorities.

First, let’s deal with the whole guilt thing. We feel guilty saying no when we don’t have a firm grasp on our priorities and convictions.

Are you committed to spending evenings with your family? Then you need to say no when asked to join the committee that meets every Thursday evening — especially since you’re already gone Tuesday evenings for something else, and you often have to work late on Mondays.

Are you committed to writing down the three things you need to do today so that at the end of the day you can look back and know that “I accomplished what I needed to do”? Then you really can’t babysit little Timmy and Sally even though their mom is in a bind. If you do, you’ve not kept your promise to yourself. And keeping promises to yourself is something you need to do. It’s usually as important as keeping the ones we make to others.

Are you committed to your new exercise and diet plan? Then you need to say no to going out with friends after work because you won’t make it to the gym that night. Also, unless you have the fortitude of a Navy Seal, you’re going to eat something you shouldn’t, or you’re going to sit there feeling miserable drinking your water with lime while everyone else is munching on a feast of tapas delights. Plus, your part of the tab is going to be $30 or more, and that doesn’t line up at all with your goal of not spending as much money on restaurant food this year.

When we understand that saying yes means we would be standing on platitudes, but saying no means we’re staying true to our priorities and convictions, no becomes a lot easier to say, and guilt goes out the window because we realize it’s the right decision. 

Grace Note:

As someone once said, “If you’re on good terms with yourself, you’re on good terms with others.” That’s one reason it’s important to stay true to our convictions; however, there is a fine line between following our convictions and using them as an excuse to be self-focused to the point of being no earthly good. Don’t turn down every request or opportunity.

A lot is gained by saying yes. You meet new people, you expand your skills, you stretch yourself, and you give your “nice” muscles a good workout. Also, if someone needs help, true help, I think you want to be the type of person others know they can count on.

2. How to Nicely Say No.

Think for a moment before giving your answer. You need to weigh your answer with your convictions and priorities. You also don’t want to answer so fast that it’s obvious that no matter what the person(s) would ever ask you, your answer would be no. Answering in a flash will trample their ego and make it seem like your no is more about them and not so much about their request.

While you’re thinking, consider your convictions and priorities, and then either say yes or no.

If you know what your answer is going to be, give it when you’re asked. Don’t tell them that you’ll get back to them just to put off saying no.

If you’re considering saying yes but you need to check on something first, tell them that and let them know when they can expect your answer.

Replying with a firm answer within a day is the Gold Standard.

Don’t wimp out and be vague with your answer to avoid hurting their feelings. It raises false hope for them, makes you seem indecisive, and slows down their process of determining who is going to be helping. As the Bible teaches, let your yes be yes and your no be no — mean what you say so that others know you have integrity.

Don’t say things that send mixed messages like, “I better not, but I want to be helpful.”

Keep your answers short and sweet. Saying no makes a lot of us nervous, and when we’re nervous, we keep talking, and talking, and talking. We can’t do that in this case. It will make it worse. We’ll dig our own verbal graves and somehow, someway, we’ll manage to accidentally twist our no into a yes.

If you can give the real reason you’re unable to help (and if it won’t hurt their feelings), it’s kind to let them know.

Here’s your five-part formula for saying no:

1.) Start with a compliment if one fits the situation.

2.) Give your answer.

3.) Say thank you.

4.) Encourage the person.

5.) Change the subject or excuse yourself.

All the way through from step one to five … keep your demeanor light, and, of course, smile. A smile says “No hard feelings.”

A General Example:

“You’re so kind to think of me to help out with the fund raising for the kid’s school, Yvonne. Daniel and I agreed that we’re each only committing to one activity this year in order to spend more time with the kids and on our marriage. I’ve already started my new blog. Thank you for asking. I know you’ll pull together a great group.”

Here’s an Example for When a Coworker Wants You to Do Something:

“You were kind to think of me as someone you feel is a good fit to help you, Chris. I’m not able to now because the third quarter projection reports need my full attention and will for the next four or five days. Thanks though, and I know you’ll get everything done in good order. You always do. I think we’re all feeling under pressure with the deadlines so close.”

Here’s an Example for When Someone Drops By and You’re Busy or Just Don’t Want to Entertain Anyone:

Good  manners doesn’t mean you have to welcome uninvited visitors into your home. When you go to the door, try saying something like: “Hello, Karen! I like your necklace. (Note: Only compliment her necklace if you truly like it.) I’m sorry I can’t invite you in now. I have other things that need my attention. (Note: In this case the thing that needs your attention is the novel you’re reading. You’re just getting to the part where you find out which of the twins is the “good” one and which one is the murderer.) If you want to give me a call tomorrow, we’ll set something up!”

Here’s an Example for When Someone Wants Free Advice:

“Thanks for remembering that I’m an accountant, Tyler. I don’t like to give advice outside the office. I’m in “home” mode and might misquote. I’d be happy to meet you at my office. Here’s my card. My website has my hours, fees, and a list of everything you’ll need to bring with you to our first meeting. Give me a call, and we’ll set up a time that’s convenient for you.”

Mentioning that your fees are on your website lets the person know that you’re not considering giving free advice.

There’s more advice for saying no in this earlier blog post: Saying No to Buying Fundraising Items.

Grace Note:

You might notice that there are no apologies in any of the above examples. That’s because you have no reason to apologize. You didn’t do anything wrong.

3. What If the Person Won’t Take No For an Answer?

Ugh! These people drive me crazy. There’s a name for them (a few names, actually). This is the Manners Mentor blog, so our name for them isn’t going to be one we wouldn’t say in church.

We will call them “bullies” because that’s exactly what they are.

Anyone who doesn’t respect your yes or your no to the point where they threaten, cajole, twist your arm, or make you feel guilty is a bully.

We’re not doormats.

We don’t tolerate bullies.

They’re rude.

We mannerly folks like to stomp out rude like Smokey the Bear likes to stomp out forest fires.

Here’s What to Keep in Mind and What to Say When Someone Is Trying to Bully a Yes from You:

Repeat the reason you gave in the first place for saying no. Example: “Daniel and I agreed that we’re only committing to one extra activity this year, and our time is already spoken for. I keep my promises to myself the same way I would to you. I do wish you luck.”

You’ll  notice that I added the part about keeping your promises. That should throw them a verbal fast ball that they’re not going to have a pat comeback for.  At this point, you can either change the subject or say, “If you’ll excuse me, Yvonne, I’m going….”

Is the request something you would consider at another time? If so, tell them. “As I said, it wouldn’t be possible for me to give you a hand for the next four or five days, but if you need me then, I’ll have a few hours in the afternoons that I can offer until you’re finished.”

Turning people down doesn’t always involve them asking you for a favor. Here’s a specific example of how to decline an invitation from them graciously.

Some additional short and sweet comments:

“It wouldn’t be right for me.”

“With my schedule, I’d be unreliable, and I won’t let myself be that.”

“My family would be disappointed in me if I took on another obligation.”

Teach your children/teens to say something along these lines: “My Mom would die if I did that!” or “My parents and I agreed that’s something I wouldn’t do.”

If you know others who might be the perfect candidate to do the favor you’re having to decline, you can mention that. Maybe their children are new to the school and the mom and dad might enjoy meeting some of the other parents. Maybe the new hires would love the chance to expand their skill sets. Or maybe you know a mom who would like to exchange some babysitting time. If so, tell those who are asking for your help that you’ll pass along the information and have the others contact them. (Make sure not to give out people’s names or contact information without speaking to them first.) For ideas on asking for those favors, check out this post.

Grace Note:

You might be the hardest working member on the team, but there’s no need to remind anyone about it. That would come off sounding like boasting or passive-aggressive complaining about everyone else’s work ethic. Just let your yes be yes and your no be no when asked to pitch in. And help when you’re able. When you’re finished, you’ll be happy you did, because no one can bring that special spark to the activity like you can!

What’s Next?

Thank you for reading this week’s post and for being part of the Manners Mentor family! If you haven’t already typed your name and email address into the box under this or any other post on the blog, do so now, and receive these posts in your inbox for easy keeping and sharing. Plus, when you do, you’ll receive a great freebie, my welcome-to-the-family gift to you. It’s my guide to self-confidence at the table. My e-book Impressive Dining Skills for Every Meal is for every member of the family. Whether you’re eating fast food or five-star cuisine, you’ll be doing so with ease, poise, and confidence!!

Until next week… keep giving the world the gift that only you can give. You… at your best!

XOXO and blessings,







Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best-friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

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