The thought of turning someone down can fill us with dread. We’ve been conditioned to be nice, be helpful, be pleasing. Our minds churn through the potential consequences – disappointing people, missed opportunities, angry reprisals. In many cases we’re over-estimating our worth.
The first step in saying no is mentally preparing for it. It’s easier to turn down an opportunity if you are focused on what you want – does the item in question align with your goals? If not, the answer is easy. Saying no does not make you a bad person. Understand that by saying no, you’re not rejecting the person, you’re simply rejecting the circumstance. You may need to take a moment to put your thoughts together before you say no – if the person is pressing you for an answer delay them but do it nicely.
The next step is to put your rejection together. Decide how to word it politely but firmly. Be honest without being rude. Think of the potential rebuttals and how to surmount them. It would also be a good idea to think of an alternative course of action to suggest to the person.
Then, pick your medium based on the situation and your comfort level: face-to-face, telephone, email, etc. Rejection is a private matter. Under no circumstances should you involve people not pertinent to the discussion (so no public posts on a social media or micro-blogging site). Decide if you want the home court advantage or if you prefer a more neutral setting. Do your best not to make the situation contentious or antagonistic.
The last step is actually say no. Make it short and sweet. There is no need for an extended discussion, endless apologies or the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Be gracious and consistent. If the person persists, a simple “I’m sorry but the answer is no.” should suffice. If not, excuse yourself and make yourself less available until they recover their manners.
Afterward, do not beat yourself up over the rejection, the consequences or how the other person reacted. Focus instead on your goals and being productive in your own life.