7 Ways To Actually Say No

7 Ways To Actually Say No

The Hardest Part of No

Saying no is an incredibly important life and business skill. Once you decide whether or not to say no, the real test happens.

Can you follow through and communicate the no?!?

How do you say no without hurting someone’s feelings or burning a bridge??

Many a “no” has turned into a “yes” because someone would rather suffer through a pointless meeting than suffer through saying “no” to that meeting. The real cost is not a boring meeting but the time lost on your most important goals. Don’t let this be you!

Having the right tools is key. Specific phrases and strategies make it easier to consistently say no when you want to.

Here are 7 real life ways to say no from folks who know (and “no”). Copy, test, tweak, customize, and practice!

7 Polite Ways To Say No

1. Adam Grant shares real phrases and strategies he uses to say no.

Adam Grant is one of my favorite thinkers and a truly generous human. Lots of great nuggets.

2. Offer an alternative.

A positive way to say no is to suggest an option that’s easier for you or more scalable.


  • Phone call instead of in-person meeting
  • Invite them to an event you are attending
  • Ask them to do work on their end -- a forwardable intro, a one page overview, reading related articles. Your part is activated (and easier!) once their work is done. You'll learn who is serious and deserving of your time based on their follow through.
  • Find a one-to-many solution. Instead of a 1:1 conversation, can it be a webinar, a group event, or open office hours?

(Adam Grant touches on this too!)

3. Two great examples of “no” in the 7 Emails You Need To Know How To Write.

A classic article from Teju Ravilochan. (I’ve also used the “friendly nudge” suggestion and it works brilliantly.)

Be funny:

Dear Mr. Adams, Thanks for your letter inviting me to join the committee of the Arts and Sciences for Eisenhower.

I must decline, for secret reasons.

Sincerely, E.B. White.

Be kind and honest:

Thanks so much for reaching out, [name]. I appreciate what you’re trying to do. One of our core values is militant transparency, so I’ll be fully honest. At the moment, I want to whole heartedly give myself to our core priorities, involving getting our new Institutes up and running, growing our team, and raising capital. That means I’m choosing to decline a lot of conversations I’d otherwise like to have; so I won’t be able to prioritize hopping on the phone with you.

If there’s something quick I can help you with or if you have a specific question, do send me an email about it and I’ll be happy to get back to you!

My best, Teju

4. How to say no to customers?

Check out the training deck with slides on common situations in the Customer Success Starter Pack.

5. A fantastic video on how to say no nicely from Mo Bunnell.

Mo is a business development genius. I’m going to try his “quantify it” strategy starting today! He has lots of great content on productivity and goal setting too.

6. From my personal no-tes.

When someone sends me a great “no” email, I jot it down for R&D (ripoff & duplicate) purposes.

A few favorites:

  • “Sadly, I won’t be able to make it Thursday. I hope to go to one of these soon.”
  • “Good to hear from you. I'm booked then but I'd like to introduce you to <someone else>, included here, who would enjoy connecting with you.”
  • “I'll have to pass on this Wednesday, but I'd love to do <this event> another day.”

7. Warren Buffett recommends you say no to almost everything.

Here’s how he practices what he preaches:  

Thanks for the invitation, but I’ll have to decline [your request for an interview]. I’ve talked about Ben [Graham] on a number of occasions, so my appraisal of him is already out there for people to see. In addition, every interview I grant results in about 20 more requests. That’s a geometric progression that I have no inclination to foster.

BOOM. A great one to end one. It’s clear, charming, and saved Buffett hours of time now and in the future. Mastering “no” is a powerful way to stay focused and achieve your biggest goals.