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How to Say No Politely

Oct 21, 2019

Man driving a car and showing thumbs upDo you ever find yourself wanting to get out of an invitation? Or an obligation?

One night before dinner, on my parents' last night in town, my dad was lamenting that he and my mother had received an invitation with the dreaded words "black tie."

My dad's in his eighties—he prefers Bermuda shorts. You could tell he was struggling with how to get out of this formal event. We'll come back to that.

For now, what if you could say no when necessary—without guilt, frustration or hostility? I wrote down these 4 keys to help you do just that: say no with class, say yes to what counts, and reclaim your life's energy, starting today. 

4 Keys to Saying No Politely

1. Challenge your negative self-talk.

For example, have you ever said any of the following?

"I'm a people-pleaser." 
"I'm my own worst enemy."
"I can't say no."

People-pleasing is overrated, the world will give you enemies for free, and yes you can say no. As you'll see (and already know instinctively), saying no is good and necessary.

2. Commit to a new mindset.

Your mindset will drive your decisions. So if you want to make it easier to say no, start with your basic beliefsabout life in general and your life in particular.

For example, try filling in this sentence as fast as you can: "Life is..."

What did you come up with? (Feel free to leave a comment below.)

My own feeling is that life is supposed to be fun. Joyful. Fulfilling. We're meant to make decisions and contributions that lead to fulfillment. That's what makes the rest worthwhile. 

3. Keep it brief.

I first learned this lesson from a co-worker in college. One afternoon in the stockroom as I was shelving shoes, he came back and asked if I could take one of his upcoming shifts.

As only a 20-year-old can, I went into this l-o-n-g  explanation of why it wouldn't work but how maybe I could make it work, but first I'd have to check and

Finally he grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me in the eye, and said "Gina? It's okay." 😂

Fast forward a good decade or more. One morning before Mass as I was getting ready to read, one of my fellow parishioners threw herself in front of me and asked point blank, "Would you think about running the youth group?"

"No." Wow, did that feel good. All these years later, it still does.

Lesson learned: Keep it brief. 

Polite Ways to Say No to a Request

"I've just got too much on my plate."
"I need to take a pass."
"That's not going to work."
"I've got another commitment."

What else would you add? Again, feel free to comment below.

4. Say yes to what counts. 

The ultimate key to saying no politely is to have a well-formed bigger yes.

You have certain relationships, certain rituals, certain causes that bring you joy. More than joy, these things define who you are and give your life meaning. Who or what is on your list? Who or what is #1?



Yay or Nay: Instant Gut Check to Help You Decide

And now to bring it all full circle, the rest of the 'dad' story:

As my father continued to dread the black-tie invitation,  I said "Dad, you know there's that saying: 'If something's not a hell yes, it's a no.'" This is how my dad and I sometimes talk in private. 

He was so taken with what I had just shared, he grabbed a pen and paper, wrote it down, and stuck the paper in his shirt pocket. I am now feeling like my daddy's hero. 

All during dinner, conversation flowed. Afterward as my parents were getting ready to leave, I hugged them both goodbye and said to my dad, "Remember what I told you." 

"I've got it right here," he said. And he whipped out the piece of paper and read it out loud with great gusto: "If something's not a hell no, it's a yes."

No, dude. Just the opposite. We all had a good laugh.

I never did find out if they went to the black-tie event.

But my father's (mis)interpretation reminded me of how most people go through life: saying yes begrudgingly to the 90 percent instead of getting clear on their top 10 percent. 

Go all in on your top 10 percent—even if it means saying no (or not now) to other things. Your future self will thank you. 

Coming Soon: Better Boundaries by Friday

Everyone deserves greater confidence, better relationships, and happier holidays—but most people will settle instead for the status quo. Don't do that. Your life is too valuable.

Better Boundaries by Friday is the new audio program I can't wait to bring you. Be prepared to laugh, come alive, and otherwise become unstoppable. Sign up below to receive no-obligation updates.

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P.S. Thanks to all who weighed in on What's the First Song that Rocked Your World? So touching to hear your stories of family, childhood, and the songs that brought you to your feet!

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