How to Say No

Declining a simple request with grace is a skill every modern man should master. But saying no can prove to be a difficult task. Nobody likes to say no. The word makes most of us uncomfortable, but it's necessary for setting boundaries and saving yourself a lot of time and trouble.

So why can't we say it? When asked to do something, whether it's to attend an event, pick-up someone from the airport or let a stranger use a cellphone, research has shown many people will say "yes" simply because saying "no" would make them even more uncomfortable. Dr. Vanessa Bohns, a professor at Canada's University of Waterloo who has studied the phenomenon, told The Wall Street Journal, "One of our most fundamental needs is for social connection and a feeling that we belong ... saying 'no' feels threatening to our relationships and that feeling of connectedness." And we worry that such rejection will change the way the other person views us, and make him or her feel badly.

So instead of giving a definitive no, we give murky false excuses. "Oh, if it were any other night, but I've got another engagement." But this just gives the person asking another opportunity to try again. "How about next week?" they'll say. Or "If the drive is too far, we can meet halfway." Then you're back to attempting to wriggle out of the situation without sounding like a jerk.

But saying no isn't as damaging as we imagine. Then you're done. You've refused. It's clear that it's not happening. And there's a real relief that comes with being honest. That's the power of no. There are few words in the English language that are more explicitly accurate. Because there some things in life you can't get back—things like your time, your health and your integrity—and you don't want to waste those. It's okay for someone to ask. But it's perfectly fine to say no.


• Use time and technology to your advantage. Texts and email give you more time to craft the proper response.

• Rehearse a polite signature phrase to decline an invitation.

• Keep a version of "Let me think about it" ready for when when you're surprised.

• Be honest about why this particular request doesn't interest you.