17 Ways To Say “No” Gracefully

negotiation coach

I know a lot of women who carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Women who work full-time or part-time, and then come home to their “second shift” —carpooling, shopping, cooking, cleaning, caretaking, parenting, all of the unpaid labor that goes into running a functional household. 

But that’s just the beginning. Then there’s PTA meetings, volunteer commitments, industry networking events, fundraisers, friends who need advice and support, and political causes that need time and attention, too.

Almost every single woman I know feels really, reeeeeally busy. “A weekend with absolutely no plans” is the ultimate luxury. Forget diamonds and cashmere—one uninterrupted shower (with no kids knocking on the bathroom door) would be great!

Lately, I’ve had a lot of conversations with my female clients and friends about the importance of saying “No.” We’re all so busy. Our calendars are so full. We all know that we need to say “No” more often in order to preserve our health and sanity. But... it’s difficult. It’s complicated. Some “No’s” are fairly easy to say, and others… not so much.  

 If you struggle to say “No,” here are 17 phrases that you can use in the future.

Tuck these phrases into your day-planner, or bookmark this page so you can copy-and-paste whichever one you need into an email, and send it off...

1. No, but here’s another option that could be great: ______.

2. How about it we ______ instead? I’d love that!

3. That’s not something I do, but here’s someone who can help you: ______

4. That’s not a great time for me, but here are two options that would be better: ______, ______.

5. I can’t meet you at that location because I’ll be on the other side of town that day, but I’d be happy to meet up at: ______ instead!

6. I’m not available to volunteer that night, but I’d be happy to contribute ______ to the fundraiser instead.

7. No, I’m not interested, but thank you for considering me! That’s very flattering!

8. I’m not able to reduce my hourly rate. But if you’re looking for a low-cost (or free) resource, here’s something that you might enjoy: ______.

9. I’m not interested in joining the board. But I’m flattered that you reached out to me, and the work that you’re doing is incredible!

10. I can’t host Thanksgiving dinner this year, but I’ve got another idea that might be fun for everyone: ______.

11. Instead of having dinner next Thursday, would you be interested in joining me for ______?

12. That’s a tempting offer, but unfortunately I’m fully booked that week. If you wind up doing something like this again in the future, please let me know!

13. I appreciate your interest in working with me! Based on what you’ve said, I don’t think I’m the right consultant for you, but I have 2 colleagues that you might want to check out: ______, ______.

14. That’s such a beautiful idea! Right now, I can’t add any new commitments to my schedule so I’ve got to decline. But I’m so excited for you! Have fun!

15. I’ve been thinking about your offer, and here’s my proposition for you: ______.

16. Oh, that sounds so fun! I wish I had room for this in my budget right now! If I did, I’d totally join you.

Or this timeless classic...

17. Thank you for the offer, but I’m going to decline because my plate is very full right now. Thanks so much for understanding!

Saying “No” is a form of negotiation, because you’re standing up for what you need, making a reasonable offer or counter-offer, and/or proposing an alternative scenario that’s ultimately better for everyone involved.

In the upcoming weeks, challenge yourself to say “No” twice as much as you typically do. See how it feels to give your schedule a little more breathing room.

This is one of the fastest ways to create more free time and upgrade your quality of life. It doesn’t cost any money. All it takes is the courage to say or type out two letters: N-O.