Open Post: How do you {nicely} say no!?

How do you nicely say no?

Something Becca and I have talked about a little bit on the podcast and a lot IRL/offline is that we both find it really hard to nicely and gracefully say no to a direct request from an acquaintance. I am great at saying no to my friends. (When I’m close with someone I have a pretty good sense of what I can say no to!). And I am great at saying no to big events (my attendance really isn’t that important in the scheme of things!). But saying no to a direct request for something I don’t want to do will give me hives.

Here are a few examples of things that I personally find harder to say no to (despite not wanting to do them!!):

  • A casual work acquaintance wants to get dinner/drinks/lunch. You think they are nice and like them. But for whatever reason, don’t want to take the relationship to the next level.
  • You get blind intro’d by a good friend to a stranger, with an ask that is going to take up time and you just don’t want to do it. And you don’t know this new person. You don’t owe them anything, but you’re worried about pissing the good friend off. I’ve found myself in that spot a few times this year and it can be a frustrating position to be put in (blind intro’s are the worst!) where you kind of have to just do it or you look like a brat.
  • Someone you haven’t spoken to in YEARS comes out of the woodwork to ask you for a favor/meeting/phone call. You don’t want to do it but for whatever reason feel like you owe them because you have a history?

I feel bad even writing this. But at the end of the day we only have so much free time and can only do so many favors.

You’ll go crazy if you say yes to everyone.

This is different from just having a lot going on and needing to wait a few months. These are those things you just don’t want to do. But you also don’t want to be awful, either! I think it stems a lot from being a people pleaser and wanting to be likeable and nice but to me, saying “no I don’t want to take this relationship to a drinks/dinner level,” or “I actually don’t have time to help you despite the fact that you’re a good friend of my friend” is really hard!

I had drinks with an author friend on Wednesday and we were talking about how hard it can be both to say no to something but also to be the person making the ask. In her case, pitching her book was a really humbling experience. She got ignored a lot, and got a lot of no’s too! But what blew my mind was when she told me that she’d actually prefer someone ignore her request than tell her no. I was shocked! I guess it’s just been drilled into my head that you ALWAYS respond to your emails! And personally, I would prefer being told a direct “no,” vs. being ignored.

This community always has the best advice… let’s discuss! Give me your best advice for saying no, gracefully. Is there a way to do it? Is it better to keep just saying “I can’t right now,” vs. “I don’t want to?” And what are your thoughts on ignoring an email? Would you rather be told “no,” or ignored!?

PS – Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Leave a Comment


  1. Marta:

    I have a lot of trouble saying no. When it’s emails or messages from people or brands I don’t have a relationship with, I have no problem saying no but if it’s a brand I’ve worked with before or someone I know, I have a lot of trouble saying no. I think I’ve gotten better at it but I still feel like I’m just giving excuses because part of me knows I should probably say yes to please somebody but then there’s another part of me that wants to say no and that knows that I can’t say yes to everything. And about being ignored or getting a “no” I think I’d rather get a “no” than being ignored because then I can’t be sure that they got my email or that they understood what I said, I just basically start making up scenarios as to why they didn’t reply.

    2.14.20 Reply
  2. Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog:

    I wish I had an answer! I find myself saying yes way too often and then ditching at the last moment. It’s even worse than saying no in the first place! Would love some tips haha!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    2.14.20 Reply
  3. Analiese:

    I get a ton of meeting/favor/networking requests, and I’ve found that the “No, but…” approach works well for me.

    “No, I can’t meet you for an hour-long lunch, but I can do a 20-minute video call on this specific day/time. If that works for you, can you please follow up with a calendar invite?”

    “No, we can’t meet for coffee so you can ‘pick my brain,’ but I’d be happy to answer a few specific questions by email. If that works for you, please respond with 3-5 questions.”

    “No, I don’t feel comfortable writing a recommendation for you since I’m not familiar with your work, but I will reach out to the hiring manager to let them know you applied. Can you please let me know once you’ve submitted your application?”

    I’ve found that this helps me maintain my boundaries while showing that I’m still willing to help. And, I put the onus back on the other person to follow-up with next steps, which only some people do.

    If a request is super vague or they clearly haven’t done any homework, I will often just ignore.

    2.14.20 Reply
    • Blondie:

      I agree with all of this. I’ve had to get good at saying no that last few years when I had two kids within two years and went PT at work. The three important parts are:
      1. Say no;
      2. Say what you would be willing to do;
      3. Make sure the person asking has to do follow up with you or do something first. If they can’t do that or otherwise put in zero effort, delete.

      For something even lower-effort, do you have a post about “how to start podcasting” or “tips to grow your blog” (which is what I am assuming the favors are related to), or could you put one somewhere on your site, and direct people who ask to it?

      2.14.20 Reply
    • Zoe Jackson:

      This is honestly some of the best advice I’ve seen in regards to saying “no”. Thank you for sharing!

      2.14.20 Reply
    • grace at the stripe:

      This is really fantastic advice. THANK YOU!

      2.14.20 Reply
    • Victoria:

      I use this same tactic, and it works really well! I try to be as clear as possible when naming the thing I’m willing to do in place of X, so that it doesn’t result in additional time spent saying no or doing the thing you don’t want to do (I found being too open ended about things like “Send me some questions” would still result in a lot of work).

      There’s a flip side to this too — after receiving blind introductions, in the past I’ve emailed friends privately and said hey, really appreciate you thinking of me, but given X Y Z happening in life right now, could you check with me next time before connecting me? Sometimes people just don’t realize (especially the social butterflies in one’s life). And in return, when I’m connecting people, I try to make sure both people are on board before sending the intro!

      2.14.20 Reply
    • Allison:

      I would echo this, but instead of straight out saying no, say “I’m not able to.” Think it softens the blow and is a little less harsh.

      2.14.20 Reply
      • Analiese:

        Totally! I don’t actually use the word “no.” I was just using it here to illustrate the concept.

        2.14.20 Reply
    • Barbara:

      Amazing advice! Thank you.

      2.14.20 Reply
    • Ellie:

      This post came just in time (slash I definitely could use help with this in general)! I got an email from someone wanting to meet for coffee and it just would be a lot for me right now.

      @Analiese I used your line about offering to answer questions via email 🙂 Thank you for sharing such a great approach!

      2.17.20 Reply
  4. Katie:

    I just try to remember the classic advice Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen (um, my idols) said they keep in mind while running The Row empire: “No is a full sentence.” Mic drop!

    2.14.20 Reply
  5. Tiffany:

    I cannot wait to read these responses! We were just talking about this in a group of friends yesterday. Trying to keep work “friends” at an arms length is so TOUGH! I want everyone to like me (people pleaser over here…) and love having girls at work to eat lunch with, but I already feel like I have such limited free time and don’t give to my closest friends and family enough… AHH!

    2.14.20 Reply
  6. mary:

    I have the most trouble saying no to family. Many of the women in my family don’t work and they do not understand how exhausted and in need of introvert time I am at the end of the workday and on precious weekends. I am constantly being asked to do things I consider ridiculous time wasters that they would never ask the men in my family to do. If I say no, I feel left out and guilty, sometimes punished. If I say yes, I resent everyone for not respecting my time. They are not bad people, they simply do not understand because they’ve never been in my shoes. That said, I’m great at saying no professionally. It’s funny where our strengths and weaknesses lie when it comes to boundaries.

    2.14.20 Reply
  7. Steph:

    I tell my friends that I do not like blind introductions and make sure that they’re all aware of that. I ask for a heads up if they would like to introduce me to someone.

    2.14.20 Reply
  8. Abby:

    I think it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I’m really busy right now and focused on some important things. If my schedule opens up in the near future, I’ll let you know.” Ignoring is also an option, of course, depending on your style.

    2.14.20 Reply
  9. Kristin:

    Ugh I can’t imagine. You seem have to such a large network and I imagine just even formulating responses can take a good deal of time. If you have a ton of these types of requests, I wonder if you could maybe collect them all, and maybe host some sort of session (online or an in person group meetup / forum) at some point during the year?

    Charge a basic fee for entry, round up the FAQ and address those to the group, and then maybe a Q&A session and meet and greet? That might be a way to kill all the birds with one stone and at least be compensated for the effort a bit? Just a thought. And if nobody RSVPs, then you’re off the hook completely!

    2.14.20 Reply
  10. Molly:

    I never say no. Ugh.

    I think because of the point I’m at in my career (just starting out), I don’t have a lot of capital so therefore don’t get asked a lot for referrals or brain pickings or networking. However, I feel like I am constantly helping my friends/coworkers with favors simply because I can’t say no and feel guilty if I do. I try to tell myself, “just because you conceivably CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD”.

    In terms of the actual “No”. I find that saying “I’m so sorry but I just can’t right now. If something changes though I’ll let you know” softens the blow, at least for me OR giving them an alternative solution ” [X person or thing] can be a great resource on this!” or “What if you just do XYZ instead”.

    2.14.20 Reply
  11. Katrina:

    If I am making the type of ask, above, I just want a firm answer so I can pivot my plans/strategy/next steps & move on. I don’t mind a ‘no’ but what I dislike is a lukewarm ‘yes’ or half-hearted attempt from someone who clearly doesn’t want to be involved in whatever my ask is. So – I keep that in mind with my ‘Nos.’ Also, I keep in mind that I can be sincere & empathetic but I don’t owe anyone a reason for my no. I do, however, sometimes soften with a ‘helpful pivot,’ if it feels awkward.

    (Simple no).
    Q: Do you want to get dinner/a drink?
    A: I really appreciate the invitation, but no thank you. (It’s OK if there is a bit of an awkward pause here. Just be direct & confident, & then move on).

    (Helpful pivot).
    Q: I want to introduce you to John Smith because he is a blogger too & he wants a favor.
    A: Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not interested in meeting John. You should direct him to The Blog Society for some awesome tips & networking!’

    Keep in mind:
    1) Saying no gets easier with practice.
    2) Doing the thing you don’t want to do is going to lead to hours more discomfort. Way worse than the 2min of discomfort of saying no.
    3) (most) Men don’t get the same guilt gut that women do from saying no.
    4) Don’t waste the ‘asker’s’ time. Would YOU want to go to dinner with someone who doesn’t want to be there? No way! & you’d feel bad they felt they couldn’t say no to your invitation.

    2.14.20 Reply
    • grace at the stripe:

      Do you offer life coaching services!? LOL kidding but this advice is amazing. Thank you.

      2.14.20 Reply
    • Jenn:

      Ooooh girl, there is some serious wisdom here. Thank you for sharing!

      2.14.20 Reply
  12. Caroline:

    This isn’t a direct answer to your question, but may be more helpful for people on the other end asking for the favor (maybe your author friend!) I was listening to “How I Built This” the other day with the founder of MM LaFleur and she said whenever she was doing emails for funding in the beginning she would end with “If you or anyone you know would be interested, please let me know.” She said she felt this made it more comfortable for the other person bc they had options – an easy out could be to say “let me think if anyone in my network would be a fit and I’ll reach out if so.” Obviously this approach also gave them the opportunity to directly recommend a connection, or to say yes themselves. This is something that stuck with me if I were to be in a position to reach out in a networking context!

    2.14.20 Reply
  13. Lane D.:

    I’ve adopted marking a ‘no’ with a long, drawn-out ending “[Name], it’s so wonderful to hear from you! But this is a slammed time of year for me with travel, personal, work…like everyone else! I’ll be in touch as I get through this wild season!”

    Is this a cop-out? Ohhh yeah. But it comes with a silver lining-I’ve done this trick of ‘don’t call me, I’ll call you’ and ended up changing my mind about a few people/projects! At times, I was right the first time around. But it’s lead to happy accidents and great connections.

    Not related to how yourself, Becca or others handle this toughie, but I think that’s why the ghosting phenomenon is so prevalant…why say no when you can say nothing? I’ve ghosted dates and I truly always regret it (is that them at Trader Joe’s? Shit!).

    2.14.20 Reply
  14. Lisa:

    I love this advice from Alexandra Franzen: I also once read that every email (or personal ask, for that matter) is an invitation to respond, not a requirement, and that really stuck with me. Even a response requires your time, and sometimes you have other priorities. So I try not to feel bad about ignoring a request.

    2.14.20 Reply
  15. Ellen Maguire:

    At the risk of revealing all my secrets (!) I have a few suggestions. For the breakfast/lunch dates that you don’t want to go on I’d be semi-truthful and reply with something like, “Thank you so much for reaching out. In full transparency I’m feeling quite stretched thin at the moment. Would you mind if I got back to you when my schedule is a bit more open!”

    And for the person who you haven’t spoken to in years you shouldn’t feel too obligated to oblige. Or even reply. But if you do want to drop a note I’d suggest something like, “What a lovely surprise to hear from you. I hope you and your husband/wife/family are doing well. My schedule is a bit nuts at the moment so I can’t dive into this just now but will let you know if I have any leads to pass on to you. Wishing you the best of luck with the (insert nature of random request here.”

    Xo Ellen

    2.14.20 Reply
    • grace at the stripe:

      These are fantastic, thank you so much for sharing them 🙂 🙂

      2.15.20 Reply
  16. E.Jones:

    A few internal scripts we (in our business) are very much practicing right now:

    As much as I would love to say “yes” right now, the reality is my plate is very full and I have to say “no.” Thank you for thinking of me.

    Thank you for asking me/thinking of me, but I am in a season of no right now. It is so hard for me to say no to others, but necessary for me to say yes to myself right now. I appreciate you allowing me to be honest with you.

    Thanks for reaching out! I get a lot of requests like this and I cannot commit individual time right now, however here is a great resource (insert link) you might find helpful! Best wishes to you!

    Thanks for getting in touch regarding your question. I have two “pick your brain” calendar slots available every week. Here’s a link to my calendar if you want to book a quick 10-minute call with me!

    2.14.20 Reply
    • grace at the stripe:

      I really love these – thank you so much for sharing!

      2.15.20 Reply
  17. A Fan:

    Hi Grace, I’m a huge fan of yours and a faith listener of the podcast. I just wanted to point out something I’ve noticed about you: you seem to want to have conversations around boundaries *a lot.* In nearly every other podcast, you mention how much time you spend interacting with your audience (DMs, etc)… how exhausted you are from your own totally optional life choices, etc. And now a post on saying “no.” Aside from your interactions with your nephew and your work, where do you say “yes” or do something for other people? I bet you actually are a great friend and good colleague to people in your industry, but it doesn’t come across at all in your persona, especially lately. You seem very self-protective, self-involved and all about drawing boundaries around yourself. Which again, is okay, but it’s just a really imbalanced representation. Thought I’d point it out if it’s helpful, because sometimes we don’t see our own blindspots. The vibe is starting to get weirdly negative and I know that’s not your intention.

    2.15.20 Reply
    • grace at the stripe:

      Hi there. Thanks for the note/feedback.

      I guess I should be more careful how I phrase things – I’ve always just been really honest with my audience and don’t censor things but certainly don’t want to come off as negative, or as you say, “very self-protective, self-involved and all about drawing boundaries around yourself.” OUCH!! 🙂

      I guess there are a few things I’d note. First of all, the other words I’ve been (potentially overusing!) have been “calm, cozy, and less self absorbed” which is only possible by setting boundaries and not letting work take over my life. The truth is that last year was really hard, and that I had zero balance between work and life – I did not have much of a personal life. I am okay with that as it was a growth year but that’s why I have had to do the things I am doing now, to take steps to prevent that from happening. And for as much as I do share, there’s also a lot that I keep private (romantic relationships, and a lot of family stuff like my niece for example). Setting boundaries and saying no more often have made growth in those other areas possible. I guess I’d just say that there’s just more than what’s being shared – which I also need to be cognizant of. The intention was never to be negative, but rather to be real and honest. I’m never going to be fake positive/cheerful when things are hard but regardless I do appreciate you pointing it out, like you say we don’t always see our blindspots.

      As for a post about saying no, it’s one of the most requested, and also something I am not very good at… hence the open post. 🙂 I don’t regret writing it for a second as the advice here has been INCREDIBLE.

      2.16.20 Reply
      • Analiese:

        Our society already teaches women to be overly accommodating, careful with their tone, and avoid saying no. We’ve internalized these messages to the point where it can be triggering to see another woman refusing to conform to others’ idea of how she should behave. Protecting one’s time and energy is a normal, healthy impulse for a human being. Yes, it can take a little trial and error to find the right balance…but — in a culture that already shames and polices womens’ boundaries to the point of exhaustion — perhaps we agree not to do the same to each other?

        2.17.20 Reply
        • grace at the stripe:

          Thank you. So. Much.

          2.17.20 Reply
        • Anna:

          YES YES YES, well said Analiese! Let’s strive to lift each other up instead of being the crabs that pull each other back into the pot of boiling water, shall we?

          2.23.20 Reply
          • Analiese:


            P.S. Grace, in case it wasn’t clear, my reply was directed at the original comment, not at your response (couldn’t figure out how to edit that after the fact).

          • grace at the stripe:

            YES – I knew that’s what you meant! Thanks Analiese, and thanks again for your thoughtful comments.. you really had a lot of good advice that I’ve been incorporating already! 🙂

          • grace at the stripe:

            Haha yes I love this expression and am going to integrate it into my vocabulary!

  18. Leah:

    I might be wrong but it seems that you have a lot of friends that’s you’ve made by asking a casual work acquaintance wants to get dinner/drinks/lunch/workout/be a podcast guest, etc. etc. Curious about the difference between this and the asks that you get.

    AND I think people have given really great, specific advice on how to say no, especially to time that you don’t want to spend on a person or situation. No hotter commodity than our own time, right??

    2.17.20 Reply
  19. rebecca evans:

    In the moment I’m apt to say yes but I honestly need time to reflect so I like to say can I think about it and get back to you, then I have the time to process if this is something I can and want to take on

    2.22.20 Reply