How to say no politely: the perfectly pitched Yes, No, Yes

How to say no politely: the perfectly pitched Yes, No, Yes

How many times have you opened an email or read a text message, only to think, ‘Too hard, I’ll deal with that later. I don’t know how to say no’?

I used to be in awe of those people who know how to politely decline an invitation and not hurt your feelings. The ones who respond in a timely manner and manage to diplomatically say no. The ones who put themselves first, but manage not to ruin the relationship. The ones you end up respecting more, with a feeling of, ‘Why can’t I be like that?’ Now, I am one of them.

A couple of years back, I headed to Bali for a much-needed family holiday. I was burnt out, had recently left my job and was focused on Circle In. But I wasn’t lying by the pool with a mojito and the latest NYTimes best seller; no! In between the kids’ sleeps, I was writing and working on our business.

Through LinkedIn, I realised my time in Bali crossed over with a contact I was desperate to meet with. Via email, we arranged to meet and I got busy preparing a list of questions. I was ready for a 30-minute poolside mocktail and non-interrogation interrogation.

That was until the week of planned meet up when I received the dreaded, ‘Thanks, but no thanks—I don’t have time.’

At first, the disappointment was so sharp I wanted to cry. This was a contact I needed to reassure me our business model was sound and that working parents needed what we had to share. The rejection made me question what I had to offer.

Then I read the email again: ‘Hi lovely—how are you enjoying Bali? Would you believe I’m not going to get the chance to see you? I’ve been travelling a lot and I’m tackling the mum guilt big time. So, I’m sorry to say, it’s not going to happen. How are things with you?’

What struck me then was the confidence in the no. The perfectly pitched Yes, No, Yes. She had managed to do what I always wanted to be able to do: respond immediately, be polite, be personal, be confident and put myself first.

I have no idea what was going on for her (and I don’t need to know) but I totally get the mum guilt thing. Regardless, she put herself first and was not afraid to let me know. I learnt a lot from that email. We talk about the power of Yes, No, Yes a lot at Circle In, and this a perfect example of how you do it. So here are my take-aways:

Don’t be afraid – Say no with confidence, especially if you really don’t want to do something or don’t have time.

Respond in a timely manner – The longer you put it off, the harder it will be to say no.

Prioritise – Important people in your life get priority over strangers or acquaintances asking you for a coffee or a favour.

Be authentic – Avoid telling white lies. No one can say yes to everything all of the time. Lying only leads to (more) guilt.

Practice the Yes, No, Yes philosophy – In other words, connect first on a positive note, then politely decline, then end on a positive and possibly an open-ended question (such as above—how are things with you?).

If you need some polite ways to decline, here are some great examples:

  • I’m really sorry I can’t help you, but I would love to recommend someone else
  • I wish I could help you, but it is just not possible right now. Thank you for thinking of me
  • I’m really sorry, but I have promised myself that I would say ‘no’ when I realistically can’t meet your expectations/deliver
  • I promised myself that I would commit my time to [insert project]. That’s what is important to me right now and I need to stay focused
  • Thank you, however I have just committed to three other priorities and this is not something I will be able to fit in. I can help connect you with some of my contacts if you like?

Learning to say no politely and with confidence has been one of the best things I have done for myself. Although challenging at first, it has freed me of feeling any unnecessary guilt, resentment and stress.

We should all prioritise and put ourselves first by saying no more. Give it a go, and I promise that you will surprise yourself, and probably feel pretty damn good, too.

Written by Jodi Geddes, Co-founder of Circle In.

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