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2 Ways to Say No That Work Every Time

We’ve all been there.

You’re heading to the checkout lane at your local grocery store and you glance up to make eye-contact with a woman from your local sports booster club.

Her face lights up as she realizes you’ve actually seen her.

There’s nothing you can do.

She’s seen you and she knows you’ve seen her.

She proceeds to walk up to you and make the typical chit-chat while you silently try to think of an excuse you can make to move the conversation along because you know what’s coming.

You have nothing against this woman.

She’s perfectly lovely.

But you know what she’s going to ask.

And before the best reason for needing to leave comes out of your mouth, what you were dreading most comes out of hers.

“Oh, I’m just so happy I ran into you! As I’m sure you know, we have the big raffle coming up and as my term on the board comes to its end, you are the person that first came to mind to take my place! What do you think?”

“What do I think?!” you frantically consider. “I can’t think of anything at the moment! I don’t want to do this! Oh crap, what do I say? What do I do? How can I get out of here!?”

So maybe you don’t get accosted in grocery stores by over-zealous soccer moms.

Maybe it’s at church and it’s your minister doing the asking.

Maybe it’s a family gathering and it’s your.very.own.mother.

It doesn’t matter who is doing the asking and it doesn’t matter where the asking takes place.

What does matter is what you do next.

And the majority of us?

Against every fiber in our being and even if we know deep down the answer is an adamant “Hell no!”, rarely, if ever, do we actually say that. (Well, to be clear, I’m not actually advocating you say that out loud…)

But I am advocating that we all get a bit more comfy with the word “no”.

As a busy woman trying to keep her own crap together, you can’t afford to say “yes” to everything or you will go insane and take everyone down with you.

The scenario above is the toughest because the person is literally standing in front of you with a look of eager anticipation, waiting for your enthusiastic “Sure!”

So what can we do?

Well, lucky for you, there’s a checklist. Literally just go through this list and you’ll find all sorts of new freedom you didn’t realize you could enjoy.

  1. Thank the person. We should try and think of being asked as an honor.
  2. Check your gut. You have to decide if you have any interest at all in doing what you’re being asked. If you do, follow what you’d normally do in this situation, but if you know the answer is a “Hell no!”:
  3. Say “no”. I know…revolutionary! But for real, it’s okay to just say “no”. If this is too hard for you and you want to provide a reason, try the following:
    • Ask when they need an answer and commit to getting back to them. This is simply buying you some time. You will feel markedly less pressure when they aren’t standing in front of you.
    • Go home, pour yourself a drink and consider which of the two following reasons you’ll likely give.(Please make sure whatever you choose is the truth. We’re not lying to people here.)
      • Reason #1: “It falls outside of my expertise/isn’t a match for my skillset.” Adjust the words to sound like you, but essentially, you’re telling the person that while they may see you as the perfect fit for what they need, you don’t. It’s a really nice touch if you can refer them to someone who does have the skills/talents they’re seeking. (And it’s even nicer if you give that other person a heads-up that you’ll be suggesting them as an option.)
      • Reason #2: “I don’t have the resources to support this right now.” Ah, resources. Such a shady little word, but you can say it. Resources could be anything: time, energy, money, sanity. The bonus add with this one is to say, “Here’s what I can do.” (Just because they asked for the moon, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be satisfied with a star.)

Now, I can about imagine what you might be thinking …

But if I don’t do it, who will?

Well, what if no one does it? What’s going to happen? Will the world come to an end?

I get it.

The event might. It might actually die if you finally stand up for yourself and say “no”.

But not only is this set of guidelines good for you, it can be good for the life cycle of events, too. Sometimes, events/fundraisers/ideas outlive their value because everyone is too afraid to stop offering it.

The most important element is this: no one appreciates a martyr.

Everything you say “yes” to that you really would rather not do robs you of time to do the things you really do want to do.

It’s your life.

Reserve your “yes” for the things you value most.


  1. Katie says:

    I struggle with saying no and I love this post. Thank you!

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