The Art of the Graceful “No”

say no“No” is arguably the most powerful word in the dictionary. So why is it that we can’t seem to utter it when we need it most?

I suspect it has to do with guilt. Women are people pleasers by nature. So we say yes every time we’re asked to bake cupcakes or go on a field trip or teach Sunday school at the last minute. We also say yes when someone asks us to give away our products and services for free.

You know the routine. You reluctantly agree to oversee Vacation Bible School at church. And because you are a talented, hard-working woman, your team puts on the most organized and entertaining VBS ever. Then what happens? You are nominated to do it again the following year. And the year after that. And the year after that. This would not be a problem if you actually enjoyed it. But over time, your enthusiasm for the project diminishes and you’re left feeling obligated and resentful.

We bring this kind of torture on ourselves, you know. Nobody can force us to say yes in the first place. By saying yes and doing a great job, we establish a reputation as dependable and hard working. And this has the unwelcome side effect of attracting more “opportunities” to shine in the same way.

When we take on too many things, we don’t leave any space for ourselves. We don’t have any time to fulfill our life purpose. We don’t leave room to grow, to breathe and simply… to be. Imagine how it would feel to eliminate that one thing that is zapping all your personal energy right now! To freely and completely do what God is calling you to do without getting distracted by everyone else’s requests and expectations.

So, in the spirit of creating space in your life for growth and happiness, I hereby give you permission to say no to anything that no longer serves you and your family unless God has specifically called you to do it. Anything that is not truly in alignment with your values and goals. And the best part is that I’m going to give you some language to make it even easier the next time you need to say “No!”

7 Keys to Saying “No” With Grace

  1. Be proactive: Most of the time, you know you need to say “no” to something or someone even before you are asked. Plan ahead by scripting out your response. Start by getting comfortable with a generic response you can adapt to different requests. Something like: “I’m working hard at spending my time on things that are the highest priority in my life right now. I’m trying to concentrate on just a few really meaningful activities and let other people step up to the plate. I’m really proud of myself for setting these boundaries and respecting my own limits because I’ve noticed it makes me more peaceful and leaves me with enough energy to enjoy my family.”

    And – even better – you can prevent requests in the first place with a proactive statement such as: “I’m really looking forward to the children’s Christmas pageant! I’m not going to be able to lead the decorating committee this year but please feel free to have the new committee chair call me if she has any questions.”

  2. Make a decision and respond quickly. Most of the time, you know right away when you are unable (or have no desire) to do something. If you wait to respond, the decision becomes a drain on your mental energy – and it usually doesn’t change your response. Be speedy and direct with your reply. For example, when you’re asked to contribute cash or buy something to support a cause, you could respond with, “What a wonderful cause! I wish I could support it but I’ve put a lot of thought into my charitable giving this year and decided to support other causes that I have a personal connection to.”
  3. Do not feel pressure to explain. A simple, graceful “no, thank you” is all that is required. The more “reasons” you share, the more they begin to sound like excuses. Try something simple like, “Thank you so much for the invitation but I already have a commitment that day.”
  4. Maybe means no. Be very clear. If you know for certain that you don’t plan to accept an invitation or request, be very clear in your language when you decline. Don’t leave it open by saying, “We’ll try to stop by” or “Can we play it by ear?” This only creates false expectations and more negative energy for you to carry around.
  5. Don’t worry about what everyone else will think. With clarity and purpose, you can gracefully decline any invitation or request. But you need to let go of the reaction of others. You can’t waste valuable energy worrying about what they think of your decision. If you’ve made the choice based on what you know God has called you to do, take heart in knowing that you are honoring Him. And don’t try to talk the other person into understanding, agreeing with or giving you approval for your decision.

    For example, if you are asked to share your time and talent and you wish to decline, try the following response: “Thanks for asking. I’m honored that you would think of me for this important job. But I have a tendency to take on too many worthwhile causes and get distracted from my real calling because I feel so passionately about helping people. 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 that means setting limits on how much time I spend working on projects like this. Thanks for understanding.”

  6. Don’t look back. Once you make a decision, be confident in your choice. Don’t change your mind when the guilt creeps in or the gossip starts to spread. Even if you are disappointed that you are skipping the most popular women’s retreat in exchange for a weekend with your family, let go of the belief that you are missing out on something. Have faith that there will always be another invitation.
  7. Practice makes perfect! Saying “no” can be uncomfortable and unpopular. But nobody ever said that doing the right thing was easy! The more you practice the art of the graceful no, the easier it will become. Remember… You can say no with grace when you keep in mind that by eliminating something in your life, you are creating space to do the things God is calling you to do.  
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