Elegantly saying No

We all know how difficult it can be to say no sometimes. After all, especially as women, we are often raised with the mindset that saying no or putting others’ needs before our own is simply the polite thing to do. Saying no, or telling others that we cannot do something or do not want to do something can be perceived as “rude”. Considering that this is the norm for most women, it is not surprising that it can be tough to say no! In fact, more and more millennials are making fun of this situation online, joking about their inability to set boundaries even if they are overbooked or stretched too thin. With this in mind, this article will walk you through four ways to say “no” elegantly and in a way that does not make you feel uncomfortable. You can be assertive and bold without coming off as rude. It’s only a matter of learning how to do so with elegance. 

  1. Communicate that you understand the statement (of the person asking for a favor or service)

Turning down more work, offers, or a request for a partnership (to give a few examples) does not need to be done with a straight “no”. Naturally, if someone comes to you excited and asks you for a service or a favor, you may feel like being direct is the best way to do so. After all, honesty is the best policy. Nevertheless, you can do so with elegance. By communicating that you have understood what the person is asking for, you are ensuring that they will not come back to you with excuses or try to wiggle their way through your calendar. Communicate that you have understood their statement by paraphrasing, repeating what they have requested, or confirming it with them by exclaiming “if I am understanding this correctly, …”. This is the first step – once they are aware that you understand their request, you can be unapologetic about declining it. 

  1. Unapologetically explain briefly your own situation (e.g., refer to your own priorities)

Now, this step is where it can get challenging. This is where you need to overcome the feeling that you owe others your time – you do not! You must explain your own situation – in other words, your priorities – and hence why their request is not one you can fulfill. Do not feel apologetic, it is your right and entitlement to put your priorities first. This is about becoming assertive at your job and being bold. You can say no! 

  1. Propose an alternative (to you doing the task)

The line between being considered rude (or inconsiderate) and showing others that you are unable to match their request is found here: rather than simply saying no and walking away, provide an alternative. Instead of forcing yourself to add more to your agenda and over-stretching yourself, once you have explained why you are unavailable for it, let the person know of any alternative you can think of. This shows assertiveness in that you understand that they need the help and attempt to help them find it without stepping on your own boundaries. 

  1. Come to an agreement with the requesting person 

Finally, aim to come to an agreement with the person setting up a request with you. Their goal is to get you on board for their project, whatever that may be. Perhaps they want you to do them a favor, or maybe they want your expertise on the project they are working on. However, once you have established that this is not something you can help them with, you should still try to mend the conversation by closing it on a positive note. This may be, for example, agreeing to be their point of contact if they have any questions down the line. Otherwise, you could offer to help with a project that is coming up further down the line when your schedule clears up. Just make sure to come to an agreement that also works for you, and not only one that meets the person’s expectations while making you overstep on your boundaries. In this case, it’s only counterproductive!

Indeed, becoming assertive at your job and knowing how to say no without causing others to be upset with you or feel like you have responded improperly can be daunting tasks. It is nonetheless crucial that you do so to avoid placing yourself in situations where you have put others first so significantly that you end up taking the entire burden of responsibility. Put yourself first, say no, be assertive, and remember to be bold. You’re entitled to it! 

In need of support in your quest to become a more assertive YOU? I can help. Contact me today!


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Ulrike Seminati


I am a long-standing senior executive, coach and author. I am combining all her experience and years of excelling in the corporate world with powerful self-development techniques and give them to hard workers like you, allowing you to flourish, realize the root causes of your struggle, and finally land that leadership spot you’re after!