Whether you have a ton of free time on your hands or haven’t had a week that “ended” in three years, you probably get approached to do a variety of things suggested by everyone from colleagues and clients to virtual strangers.  This may range from reviewing someone’s book or attending a conference to providing feedback or free products or services.

I know this happens to me regularly, and whether it’s that I am unable to do it or unwilling to do whatever has been requested, I have a problem saying no.  Well, the problem isn’t really saying “no”; it’s saying “no” and nothing else.

I am a people pleaser and a helper by nature and I can’t help but feel guilty by turning someone down who wants my assistance, my attention or has made an offer and I feel compelled to explain the reason why(which is probably symptomatic of being one to educate others).

So, I have had to learn that I don’t need to explain, I can just say no.  Whether I can’t attend the conference because I don’t want to because I have a client engagement or because I have to watch the Bears play football is really irrelevant and none of the other party’s business.  The fact of the matter is that I can’t and that’s all I need to say.

By trying to explain a no, you open yourself up for debate, thoughtful problem solving, miscommunication or hurt feelings.  You may not want to read the book, so you say you can’t do it because of some deadline and then, the other person extends the deadline.  Or you don’t want to go to lunch with a colleague and say that you have a client meeting, so they offer up dinner instead or even worse, start telling you that you value your client more than their friendship.

And the reality is, whatever the explanation, it doesn’t affect the outcome for the other person.  It’s a no, regardless.

If you are not used to being concise and are having a hard time with no, here are some ways to say no with nothing else needed:

  • It’s not a fit right now.
  • I’m sorry, but I am unable to attend.
  • I wish I could, but I can’t make it.
  • Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not able to do it.
  • I appreciate the offer, but I can’t participate/oblige.
  • Thank you so much, but I can’t.

In most situations, unless there is a special relationship, that’s all that you need to say.  You can be gracious and appreciative, but don’t feel the need to caveat.   You don’t owe anyone an explanation.