When my children were toddlers I had no problem saying the word “no.” In fact, I felt like it was the only word in my vocabulary for a few years. But somewhere along the line, I realized I had a difficult time saying “no” to other people.
I think many moms fall into this same trap. We want to please people, so we reluctantly agree to do something we know perfectly well we don’t have the time to do. Then we end up feeling resentful – rather than joyful – about our over-committed lives. (If you’ve ever stayed up until midnight making cupcakes for a bake sale and cursing under your breath, then you know what I’m talking about.)
What if we perfected the art of saying “no” when we need to? What if we actually practiced saying “no” so that it became easier to do in the moment? What if we could say “no” without hurting feelings or feeling guilty? Here are some ways to say no:
7 Tips for Saying “No” With Grace
1. Say “no” to the good in order to make room for the great.
Keep in mind all the great stuff you are making room for in your life – more time with your family or the ability to exercise more regularly. Write down the good stuff (your priorities) and put them someplace visible, so you can see them when you are asked to do something that would be a distraction or barrier. And don’t be afraid to share your reasoning with a statement like this:
“I’m honored that you would think of me for this important job, but right now I’ve decided to spend more time with my family and this would prevent me from doing that. I hope you understand.”
2. Make decisions in advance.
I teach my children to make decisions in advance so they don’t have to rely on their undeveloped prefrontal cortex when they are tempted to take a sip of alcohol or cheat on a test. The same strategy works for me when it comes to saying “no” to something or someone. I make up my mind before I even receive the request. If there is something you anticipate being asked, write down your response in advance to help clear your thoughts. And you may even be able to stave off the request with a statement like this:
“I’m really looking forward to Field Day at school this year! I’m not going to be able to lead the refreshment committee this year but please tell the new committee chair to call me if she has any questions.”
3. Remember “no” is a complete sentence.
Don’t feel the pressure to explain your answer every time. A simple, graceful, “No, thank you” is often all we need. Sometimes when we share a multitude of reasons, they sound more like excuses. Try rehearsing this simple statement and ask a trusted friend to call it to your attention if she ever hears you ramble on with excuses:
“Thank you so much for the invitation, but I will not be able to participate.”
4. Decide immediately.
When you receive an invitation or a request and you delay responding, it’s not only rude, but it also becomes a mental burden you carry. It weighs on your mind and your heart until you’ve made a decision. You certainly need to take the time to make a prayerful and thoughtful decision. But don’t procrastinate and avoid the issue – especially if the answer is “no” but you’re simply afraid to say it. Try making a 24-hour rule for yourself – challenge yourself to make a decision and respond by the following day. Then, if the answer is “no,” try a response like this:
“I’ve carefully considered taking on the position but I simply can’t make that commitment at this time. I wanted to let you know right away so you can begin looking for someone else.”
5. Be clear and direct.
My children used to catch me on this one all the time – I would say “maybe” to their request and they would reply with “Mom, everyone knows that ‘maybe’ means ‘no.’” And it’s true. Many times we give a vague response because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. So we say something like “I’ll try to stop by,” when we are 99% sure we won’t make it to an event. This only creates false expectations and more of a mental burden for you to carry around. And it leaves other people feeling disappointed. Instead, see how it feels to be clear and direct with a statement like:
“Thank you for including me. I’m bummed that I won’t be able to make it. Please keep me in mind for next time!”
6. Ignore the reaction.
If you make a decision with intention, and you decline with grace, then don’t worry about what everyone else thinks. You don’t need to talk other people into understanding, agreeing with you, or giving you approval. Don’t let yourself believe the lie that nobody else will step up to do something if you don’t do it. Somebody will step up. And if not, that’s ok, too. People may be disappointed in your decision but don’t let that change your mind. Here’s an example response that’s difficult to argue with:
“I really appreciate the opportunity, but I have a tendency to take on too many worthwhile causes — and when I take on too much, I end up doing a lousy job on everything. I’ve realized that I need to stay focused on my priorities and really limit the time I spend working on projects like this. Thanks for understanding.”
Don’t let yourself believe the lie that nobody else will step up to do something if you don’t do it.
7. Have no regrets.
Once you make a decision, don’t look back. Be confident in your choice and don’t let guilt or gossip eat away at you. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) can take over and cause you to do things you later regret. If you need some encouragement, refer back to #1 and keep your eye on the prize!
So what are your best tips for saying “no” with grace?
Theresa Ceniccola is The Christian Mompreneur—a mentor to moms who are running a business that supports their values of faith and family. Fueled by an adventurous spirit, Theresa loves to hike, run, bike, and explore God’s country. But she is happiest at home, laughing and cuddling with her college sweetheart and their three children.