Ways I Say No

42 Ways to Say “No” (or Buy Time Until You Can)

by Margot Silk Forrest, author of A Short Course in Kindness

A lot of us have difficulty saying “No.” This list, offered with compassion and a little humor, will help you get comfortable with turning people down, refusing to answer nosy or offensive questions, asking people to stop doing something you don’t like, and telling others you disagree with them.

As you develop your “No” muscles, see if you can shift from saying, “I can’t” to forthrightly saying, “I won’t.” Also try exchanging “I don’t want you to” to “Don’t!” You will feel vastly more empowered-and have more time for self-kindness and kindness to others when you do.

When Someone Asks You To Do Something For Them or With Them:

1. The enthusiastic (polite/helpful/etc.) part of me would like to say yes, but the rest of me is overcommitted (more realistic/unwilling/etc.).

2. I don’t know. I’ll have to think that over.

3. I wish I could help you out, but I’m overextended/overcommitted right now.

4. I’m going to pass. I’m really trying to slow down my pace these days.

5. That’s something I’ll have to think about.

6. I don’t have my calendar with me, but I can call and let you know tomorrow.

7. Sorry, I’m already booked.

8. No, I can’t make it after all. But it was nice of you to ask.

9. I’ll think it over.

10. Thanks, but I’m way too tired.

11. No, that’s not really my thing.

12. Don’t hold your breath!

13. I have an appointment that day/night. (And you don’t have to say what it is!)

14. That’s not for me, thanks.

15. Oh, that sounds interesting. Let me think about it and get back to you.

16. I’m not sure if I’m free that day/night. Let me check and call you tomorrow.

17. Sorry, but my schedule is too full right now.

18. The part of me that wants to make you happy wants to say yes, but the rest of me won the vote. I’ll pass.

19. Thanks, but I don’t think I will.

20. That’s not really something I enjoy.

21. That doesn’t work for me.

22. That doesn’t fit for me.

23. When you want to have some fun saying no, try one of these:

  • Not in this lifetime! Forget it! Dream on!
  • You must be kidding! Not in a million years!
  • Are you out of your tiny little mind?

When Someone Does, Asks, or Says or Asks Something Invasive:

24. I’m not comfortable with that.

25. I’d like to ask you not to _________________________________.

26. I’d like you to stop __________________________________.

27. Please stop doing that. I don’t like it.

28. I’m uncomfortable right now with what you’re saying/doing.

29. That’s not something I talk about except with family.

30. Let’s talk about something else.

31. I want to keep that to myself.

32. That’s my business.

33. I’m surprised you think you have a right to that information.

34. I don’t feel like talking about it.

35. And you are asking me this because..? (Try saying this one with a look of utter disbelief.)

36. Sorry, that’s not something I talk about.

37. I never answer questions like that.

When Someone Says Something You Disagree With:

38. I see it differently than you do.

39. We certainly don’t agree about that.

40. I have a different point of view.

41. My experience of _______________________ is somewhat different.

42. I hear what you are saying, but I don’t agree with it.

Tell me about all the ways you say no (or would like to). This will be a fun prompt to post, so please share your list on the Roadmap blog.


  1. Joanne Daley says

  2. Jean West says

    I’ve come to the realization I can’t be in two places at one time, so I won’t be able to help you.
    Until they get an operational version of Hermione’s time-turner, I can’t help you.
    Since human cloning hasn’t happened, I’m afraid I can’t help you.
    N-O. No. Any part of that you don’t understand?
    When I have more time, you can come over and we’ll look at the sprinkler system. (True reply to 9 year old neighbor who wants to help me because I’m caretaker to two sick, elderly parents.)

  3. Meredith Born says

    1–It’s my decision, and my decision is no.
    2–We’re not a match.
    3–Sorry, I’m not interested.
    4–That’s never worked for me before; I don’t see why it would work now.
    5–Not this time around.
    6–I want to say ‘yes’ to get your approval, but my real answer is ‘no’.
    7–That doesn’t work for me.
    8–That door is closed.
    9–There’s nothing for me in this.
    10–I can’t.
    11–(Smiling) No, I don’t want to do that.
    12–(Smiling) No.
    13–I’ll consider that.
    14–I’ll think about it.
    15–Maybe later.
    16–I’m booked that day.
    17–How about ________, instead?
    19–Another time, perhaps.
    20–I’m already committed.
    21–What color is the SKY on the planet you’re on?
    22–Are you on crack?!
    23–Nope. Zip. Never.
    24–How about ‘never’? Would ‘never’ work for you?
    25–That’s a great idea! But I’m not the one to ask along.
    26–I don’t like _________.
    27–That’s not OK.
    28–Being mad at me when I’m helping you is not OK with me.
    29–That’s rude.
    30–I’m insulted by that.
    31–You’ve misunderstood: I’m not up for this.
    32–I’m feeling attacked and I want you to stop.
    34–I need to go.
    35–I’ve got to go.
    37–Fuck you!
    38–You stop it right now, you son of a bitch!
    39–That’s not acceptable.
    40–Stop right now.
    41–Get away from me.
    42–Keep it to yourself.
    43–Hold it! Stop right there!
    44–That’s abusive and I’m leaving.
    45–Buzz off.
    46–Oh, no you don’t!
    46–I’m not listening to any more of this!
    48–Stop the car.
    49–I don’t think so.
    50–No me gusta.
    51–I don’t like this.
    52–I’m uncomfortable with this and I want you to stop.
    53–Leave me alone.
    54–Go away.
    55–Don’t speak to me like that.
    56–Don’t scold me.
    57–Don’t do that.
    58–Don’t say that.
    59–I’m ending this conversation.
    60–No me moleste.
    61–Don’t bother me.
    62–I’m calling the police.

    • says

      I adore your list Meredith. It should be posted everywhere! I find the hardest person to say no to is myself. I’m the one who keeps “me” running in circles!

  4. Lee Meryl Senior says

    Asthma and allergies are my life story. And, while there are many disadvantages, including difficulty breathing, an accumulation of phlegm in my lungs, the use of a nebulizer, which I hate, inhalers that clog up and you are never sure whether they are truly empty or need a cleaning. This can be a major problem when it happens during the middle of the night. However, looking at it from a different direction, it is one of the biggest advantages I have in the world of saying “no.”

    1. Sorry, I can’t go out at night. My asthma acts up.
    2. Today has a very high pollen count. It’s not good for me to go outside.
    3. My car seems to be leaking gas, and until the mechanic can work on it, I
    am unable to go anyplace. What? You’ll pick me up. I don’t think that’s
    a good idea. I am coughing a lot and a car is such close quarters that my
    riding with you is not a good idea.
    4. I just came from the emergency room. I had a bad asthma attack. The doctor told me to stay home and take it easy.
    5. No you can’t come to my house. My doctor says I need rest and quiet.

    Then there are my other sickness excuses.

    1. I was working in the garden and got into some poison oak. It is all over my body and itches terribly. It’s contagious, you know.
    2. I spent all night in the bathroom with diarrhea. I’m going to spend the whole day in bed. I think I ate something that didn’t agree with me. Or else I have something really contagious.
    3. I think my dog ate something he shouldn’t. He’s throwing it up. I’m going to have to watch him carefully, in case he has to go to the vet.

    Then there are the more assertive ones.

    1. No!
    2. I don’t want to.
    3. I’m really very busy right now. Maybe another time.
    4. I’m sure you know what you’re talking about, but I’m just not interested.
    5. Stop pushing me.
    6. Don’t you understand “no” when you hear it?
    7. I don’t want to talk about it.
    8. I can make my own decisions.
    9. I don’t care what you say about ________(so and so) I like (him/her)
    10. I want to listen to gossip.

    Many years ago, I read “When I Say No I Feel Guilty.” After reading it, I decided to be assertive. Next time I go to the super market to return something , I am going to insist they refund my money. It’s time I stopped being passive. “Mom,” my thirteen year old son, said, “Every time you have to come to the vice-principal’s office, he gets upset. He’s afraid of you.” “You’re right,” I replied,
    “I do enjoy making him uncomfortable.”

    (Note: I was a teacher, and during the teacher’s strike in the late 1960’s, my son and most of his friends (whose parents were also teachers) went to school, but refused to go to class and be baby sat by parents. Every teacher in the school was out protesting.
    The Vice Principal suspended those students who refused to attend classes.

  5. MaryAnne says


    Whenever I say no to another, I make an effort to say it with kindness, a smile, and depending on the relationship, with affection. When I say no, I say it with concentration on good manners. I find, “Thank you, no,” works for most requests.
    I see no reason to demean what the person proposes, unless the other suggests taking drugs or leaping off the Brooklyn Bridge. Most times I can have respect for what the other asks and saying no, politely, is easy.
    Saying no to myself, on the other hand, may build barriers around my actions that need not be. I ask myself, “ What would happen if I said yes to this question within my mind.”
    For example, I find myself saying, almost as a habit: That’s difficult. Or, I don’t have time. How many of us have said this and said it often?
    I recognize that it is a habit and I am determined to change it. When I have to do a chore that I dislike, I am saying no to the energy I need to have to get the job done.
    What I am working on is saying yes. And, after I have said that for a bit, then I will add : Yes, this is like riding on the wind….so, so easy!!
    Yes. I can do this!!!

    • says

      I love your question, “What would happen if I said yes?” I think a lot of it depends on what your predisposition is–to automatically say yes or to automatically say no. For those of us who don’t open to possibilities and play it safe, practice with “yes” is important. But lots of people say “yes” so much they give themselves away and “no” is important. Also, as you say, when someone starts saying “no” for the first time, they often go overboard, setting boundaries that may be unnecessary.

  6. Lorna says

    I say NO for a variety of reasons, including I just don’t want to. This has not always been easy for me to do, but once I turned 40, I decided to be more assertive in saying NO primarily because I didn’t have the time to do all that was being asked. I had spent my first 39 years trying to help almost everyone or trying not to offend them. Ways I say, NO:

    • No, thank you
    • I have a previous engagement and won’t be able to make it
    • I’m spending time with my family tonight
    • Sorry, I have to pass on this one
    • You know, I’m just going to sit at home and relax this weekend
    • I have to finish this book for my book club meeting on . . . .
    • I have a family emergency and won’t be able to make it
    • I don’t like that type of movie but be sure to ask me when there is a thriller out
    • No, that is not acceptable. Please ask a manager/supervisor to come over

    • says

      Love the one about, “Ask me when there’s a thriller out.” How many times have people sat through meals, movies, etc. that they hated because they couldn’t say no!

  7. Leslee Shaw says

    There is a comment in the Bible that says “let your yes be yes and your no be no”.
    That’s what I say: “No”, or “no thank you”. “Yes” if it fits.
    My father-in-law sent me a variation – “today is not your day; tomorrow doesn’t look good either”.

  8. Dianne says

    I too spent years being overly nice and giving in to everyone’s feelings. Now I just say – sorry but I have other plans (which I usually do). For some people that I don’t particularly care for, I’d like to be more honest and tell them that I’d rather sit home by myself as opposed to listening to them talk about themselves all night. I know a lot of people who are offended when I tell them no or decline their invite. I would typically give in and then feel mad at myself. I would like to get to a point where I could just say no thank you and leave it at that.

  9. Gayle Herman says

    I used to say no quietly in my head
    while eating chocolate to stuff down the pain.
    I used to let my body say no by
    Growing a great wall of fat—it stopped others,
    But it didn’t stop him from asking.
    I used to quietly smile while going along
    with someone else’s program,
    magically thinking I could always undo what was done.

    Then I learned to get angry and yell out
    NO—I’ve had enough
    NO—It’s not O.K. to speak that way to me
    NO—I don’t want to live like this
    He said, “hear her roar”
    And I said, “yes, now it’s my turn.”

  10. Paige says

    The cleverest way I’ve ever heard to disagree with someone is to say: “I couldn’t agree with you more.”

    It’s my own little private joke between my partner and I.

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