How to Say the Kindest No

True confession: I really like to say yes.

When someone asks me for something, I always want to give them what they want. Saying “yes” makes me feel important and needed. My friend Stephanie calls it “Oprahing”:

You get a yes. And you get a yes. And you get a yes. Yeses for everyone!

All this Oprahing in my own life feels great for awhile. When everyone delights in my willingness to bring muffins and watch their kids and lead the adult Sunday School class. But eventually, when my yeses get out of control, I’m left exhausted, resentful and overwhelmed.

No is a necessary word. A good word, even. But I'm learning the value of offering it in kindness. Here are a few practical ways to help you know how to say the kindest no.

Asking myself the right questions

I’ve learned to ask myself a few simple questions to help me decide what to say yes – and no – to. These questions help me find the middle ground between indiscriminate yeses for everyone and hiding when my phone rings because someone might want something.

First off, what about this makes me want to say yes?

Writing an article I believe in for the community newsletter will be invigorating and worth my (very limited) free time. Writing something to help out an editor-friend on a deadline may or may not be possible given the constraints of my current season of work and motherhood.

Bottom line: if the reason I want to say yes to something is rooted in guilt, fear or a sense of obligation, I know I probably need to say no instead.

Next, what would this cost me?

A wise mentor once told me every yes you give to one thing is a no to something else. When I volunteer to lead a small group for our mom’s group, I’m not only committing to the time the small group meets, but the preparation, follow-up and fatigue accompanying that kind of commitment.

Sometimes, that’s worth a yes. Particularly when it’s an activity making me come alive and allowing me to use my gifts and talents in a meaningful way. But some requests just cost too much time, money and emotional space for this season of family life. Those need a no.

Finally, is there anything about this I can say yes to?

When I know I need to say no to something someone asked of me, I try to think through whether there’s anything I can offer instead. Perhaps I know someone else to approach with their need. Maybe I can’t bring snacks every week but would be willing to do it once a month. Sometimes there isn’t anything to offer, it’s just no. That’s OK too.

Still, once I decide to say no, even when I know it’s the right decision, it can feel, well, mean. It’s hard for me to risk other’s disappointment at my decision not to participate in their project or help with their event. I never want people to think I’m blowing them off or that I don’t value their efforts.

How to say the kindest no:

I want my “no”s to be bathed in kindness, communicating the worth of the person whose asked me for something. Here’s my game plan for delivering the kindest no.

1. Sincerely thank them for asking.

Here’s where I get to acknowledge the good in what they’re doing and my pleasure at being invited into it. I let them know how much I value their trust in me and willingness to include me in their project. Whether it’s as grand as speaking at a weekend retreat or as (seemingly) small as watching my neighbor’s houseplants.

2. Say no.

Be clear! Sometimes in our efforts to be kind, we sacrifice directness. The kindest thing you can do if unwilling or unable to commit to something that’s been asked of you is to clearly say no.

3. If you do have a smaller yes, offer it.

Sometimes a no is where the conversation ends. But in other cases, though you might need to say no to what was asked, you can say yes to something else. Recently, I got asked to teach a class at my church, I almost said no because the project sounded too big. But, after thinking about it, I said yes, as long as I could recruit a strong leader to co-teach with me.

4. Let the other person feel their feelings.

You never know how people will respond. In my experience, usually others are gracious and understand when I can’t give them what they’re asking for. But occasionally people become upset or try to insist that I do what they’re requesting. Maintaining my boundaries while offering empathy for their disappointment allows me to be kind while protecting my heart and my schedule.

No is a necessary word, but I’m learning it can be offered with kindness.

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No is a necessary word. A good word, even. But I'm learning the value of offering it in kindness. Here are a few practical ways to help you know how to say the kindest no.

Lindsey Smallwood

Lindsey Smallwood

Lindsey Smallwood is good at relationships and bad at dancing. A former pastor and teacher, these days she works, writes and raises her babies in Boulder, Colorado.
Lindsey Smallwood

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