Making it Easier to Say No

Making it Easier to Say No

In 1982, Nancy Reagan said the phrase "just say no" when a child asked her how to avoid using drugs. This moment led to the launch of a national campaign to help children avoid drug and alcohol use.

"Just say no" also became a catch phrase in our society. It sounds simple enough, but, the research shows that the effectiveness of this anti-drug campaign was not enough to stop kids from using drugs.

The critics of this campaign say that telling people to say no isn't enough, we have to help them with tools to say no - the words to say, the strategy to avoid the situation, the plan to handle resistance, understanding why it is in their best interest to say no.

This applies to many of the people-pleasing big-hearted serving-minded souls that I talk with when it comes to saying no to commitments, projects, events, and opportunities. We know we should say no, but HOW do we do it?

Here are 37 suggestions. Find phrases that work for you and prepare for the next time you are asked to do something you don't want to or cannot do.

37 Ways to Say No

No, I’m not able to attend.

I’m sorry, but I have to miss this one. 

Let me think about it, by when do you need a commitment?

I can’t take a big role right now, but I can help you with….

I appreciate you thinking of me, but I have to say no.

I don’t have any capacity to take on new projects. 

I am filtering my commitments through my top values, and this is outside of my focus right now. 

I’m booked until __________, but check in with me after that. 

I can’t help you, but you might want to ask ________, she mentioned wanting to get more involved. 

I promised my husband/kids/coach that I wouldn’t add anything to my calendar, so I have to say no. 

Thank you, but I have to pass on this. 

I wish I could be in two places at once, sorry I cannot attend. 

I’m not the best fit for what you need, I suggest….

I made a new year’s resolution to ________ and I want to honor that.

We are maxed out and need to say no.

I won’t be much fun, so I’m going to say no. 

Unfortunately, it’s not a good time.

I love my time with you, but can’t do late nights anymore, could we meet for lunch? 

Committing to this is going to add too much stress, but I will help you find someone else. 

I don’t think it is good for me to do that right now. 

I only want to be away from home one night/day/weekend a week/month/year so I can’t add another one. 

My heart just isn’t in this anymore, it is time to hand it over to someone else. 

I feel God nudging me toward/away from _______.

I’m really working on listening to my soul and I don’t feel like this is what I am meant to do right now.

I feel like I should give someone else this opportunity. 

This is something I need to let go of. 

I want to do it, but can’t right now, can we talk about it for next year? 

I am not taking on any commitments until my kids go back to school/start kindergarten/graduate.

I’m focused on __________ right now and have to say no.

I want to help you, but we need to make sure it benefits both of us going forward. 

This isn’t a good time for either one of us, let’s postpone until both of our schedules improve.

My biggest priority right now is _________ and I want to honor that but saying no to this. 

I can’t be there. 

I’m sorry, but no.

Not available. 

Not going.


You have a right to say no. Most of us have very weak and flaccid no muscles. We feel guilty for saying no. We get ostracized and challenged for saying no, so we forget it’s our choice. Your no muscle has to be built up to get to a place where you can say, I don’t care if that’s what you want. I don’t want that. No.
- Iyanla Vanzant

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically – to say no to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger yes burning inside.
- Stephen Covey

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.
- Steve Jobs

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