How to Say No in the Nicest Way
and Make Them Love You Even More for It
Once upon a time in Hollywood, there was a studio executive named Sherry Lansing who rose to one of the most powerful positions in the film industry and became legendary for, among other things, the particularly classy way she turned people down. It is said that she made people feel so acknowledged and important that even when she was giving the news that the show was pulled, the movie wasn’t going to get made and the whole crew was fired, the bad-news recipients still walked out of her office feeling like something very cool had just happened. Now we all can’t be Sherry Lansing, but we can certainly aspire to such graciousness.
Sensitive people and Empaths find it especially difficult to say no. They already feel responsible for the other people’s emotions without being the direct cause of them. Saying no can in fact be so difficult for sensitive people that they just don’t do it. They instead say yes to things they have no interest in, no benefit to derive from, no desire at all to be a part of. They say yes because it’s just too hard to say no.
Sometimes this works out well! People broaden themselves by doing things they don’t want to do. For instance, if everyone only said yes to eating what they knew they liked, kale wouldn’t even be a thing.
But that’s not the point. You should still be able to say no, whether it’s good for you or not. And if you went around saying yes just because you were afraid to hurt someone’s feelings, you’d be into a lot worse than kale. So let’s take away the part where the feelings get hurt so that you can say no with great ease. Sherry Lansing has yet to give up the secret recipe to her particular brand of social grace, and until she does, here are some guiding principles for those who seek mastery in the art of declining.
Always project yourself as having a lot going on.
People with known busy schedules don’t offend others when they can’t make the barbecue because no one is expecting them to be available in the first place. And here’s the thing… you don’t have to be busy in the social or professional sense to be busy in general. Maybe you’re just busy watching TV. That’s totally legit, and yet it’s for you to know. Get used to telling people that you’re working on a project, or that you have another involvement or something equally as vague that sounds much more important than “I’ll be busy making a sandwich and watching YouTube videos of baby pandas.”
Know your yes.
Every no is a yes to something else. When you pick strawberry ice cream, maybe you’re technically rejecting the vanilla and mint ice cream but nobody thinks of it that way. When you focus your mind on what you’re saying yes to, you’ll have the energy of choosing instead of the energy of rejecting.
Know your rights.
Bottom line, you have a right to fill your time with whatever you want, and other people don’t have the right to know what that is. There are those who will act like they have a claim to your hours and your privacy – well, they are the ones being presumptuous, not you. You don’t have to make a big deal about this but just knowing in your heart that it’s your right to decline without reason will empower your position.
No to the proposal, yes to the person.
You can opt-out of an idea and opt-in to the person proposing it. Make it clear with a lot of affinity and warmth that your decision to answer in the negative is only because the idea isn’t a good fit for you, even though the person presenting it is right up your alley. It helps when you genuinely like people. Make a habit of finding lots of reasons to like people and this vibe will come naturally to you. They'll feel your acceptance without you having to say much. They’ll soften around you and they’ll decide not to take offense when you can’t do everything they want you to do because they’ll feel at their core that you really like them.
Understand how "no" helps "yes."
Marketers call it the Law of Scarcity. Basically, people want what they can’t have. If something is rare, it is perceived as having more value. If you decline most offers, the few that you accept will feel very special indeed. They will cherish your time and crave your approval. On the other hand, saying yes to everything devalues what you have to offer. So you’re actually doing everyone a favor when you say no often. Your building mystique and excitement around you, making your company into a prize.
Grace takes practice.
No one is born graceful, not even a prima ballerina. Like physical grace, social grace takes practice. Many hours go into building that core of strength that is the essence of grace. And you’ll never get practice in saying no by agreeing to everything. For this reason, “no” should be a daily habit of yours and just as easy for you to say as “yes” is. I hope that these tips empower you to make the choices that best represent what you really want to do with your one precious life!