Etiquette: The Art of Refusal

It is a fact universally acknowledged, Dear Reader, that we often take on far too much. This often leads to distraction, burnout, and once in a not-so-very-great while, utter chaos. As women, I think we’re pressured to take on even more, to always be accommodating, and to never say no. But my dearest, duckiest darlings, you do have the right to say no. In fact, you should probably say it more often.

Now, I am not going to tell you why you should say no, or why your personal time is worthwhile. That has all been said before. Suffice to say that your time, energy, and willpower is 100% yours to spend as you wish, and you should not feel guilty for that. Instead, I thought I would discuss how to say no.

I think sometimes we agree just because we don’t know how to refuse. We don’t say no very often, and have forgotten how to say anything other than yes. Or maybe others aren’t used to your refusal, and can wheedle you into a yes anyway. I know the Catholic guilt is strong with me, personally, and a few words of “Why won’t you help me?” can make me give up my time very quickly. So without further ado, here are my top three Tips for Saying No.

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  1. Be polite, but firm. “I really can’t do that right now, but maybe next time,” goes a lot further than, “I don’t think I can make time for that.” The first statement shuts the door completely, the second leaves the asker room to help you rearrange your schedule. If the asker pushes you, “No. I’m sorry,” should make it clear that it’s not going to happen. Never get angry or upset, but don’t give in because you’re tired. If the asker won’t quit, say you have somewhere to be. And leave.
  2. Give another resource. Maybe you can’t help, but you know someone who can. “I’ve got too much on my plate right now, but do you remember Susan? She said she was looking for some community involvement opportunities. Let me give you her contact info.” Or if it’s a social event, “It sounds like so much fun, but I’m swamped at work right now. Can we do something together next month?” Give the asker another way to get their yes, if you can, and both of you will leave feeling fulfilled.
  3. Be honest. Don’t lie and say you’re “too busy” when really you’re just not interested. Lies have a way of catching up with you in the short term. If you’re not interested say so. “You know, that just doesn’t sound like my thing,” is better than saying you’re too busy and getting caught at the bar with other people that night.


By doing these three things, you will have an easier time just saying no. By the way, there is a time you should say yes: In an emergency. Do what you can, when you can. You might not be able to perform CPR, but you can flag down the ambulance when it pulls up.

Happy Etiquette-ing!

By amandamarieg

Amandamarieg is a lawyer who does not work as a lawyer. She once wrote up a plan to take over the world and turned it in as a paper for a college course. She only received an A-, because she forgot that she would need tech geeks to pull off her scheme.

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