12 Ways To Say No Gracefully (Without Saying “Maybe Later”)

Grace: (n)simple elegance or refinement of movement; courteous goodwill.

We all want connection. Saying no can feel terrifying, especially if you are afraid of losing connection with someone you care about. Rejecting someone you love sucks.

In many cases, even if we don’t know the person, we want to avoid rocking the boat. But “not really saying no, and then hoping that the other person will somehow magically abide by it anyway” is not an effective strategy for maintaining your boundaries OR getting what you want.

Here are a bunch of ways to say no to loved ones, strangers, people selling you things, coworkers, lovers and everyone in between. Practice them all, and find the versions that work best for you.

No Thank You final

(Download a printable, poster-sized PDF version of this graphic here.)


  • You don’t have to justify your no. Resist the temptation to explain why it’s not a good fit, why you feel stomach-churny, or why you need to build more trust. Avoid making excuses.
  • When you state what’s true about your experience, it’s harder to argue with you.
  • You get to have boundaries.
  • “No” is a complete sentence.
  • When you say what you do want instead, it gives you both something to work from (if you want that.)

What Do I Do When I’m A Maybe?

yesnomaybeSeveral years ago, I co-founded a touch-and-communication workshop called Cuddle Party. In it, we have rules that say that if you’re a yes, say Yes. If you’re a no, say No. And if you’re a maybe, say No. (Because you can always change your mind later.)

Many people have thanked me over the years for the simplicity of those rules, especially “If you’re a Maybe, say No.” They have been grateful for permission it has given them to simply say “No thank you” and have the space show up to figure out what they actually want (if anything) from a given situation.

But I haven’t always lived my life by that rule. In fact, there have been long stretches of time when I’ve said Yes to things that I was a maybe on, simply to see what happened. And some of the best, hardest and most impactful experiences of my life have happened when I’ve done this. “If you’re a Maybe, say Yes.”

So which rule should you adopt in your life? Well, what is the thing you need to be practicing more right now?

Pushing your edges and having experiences 
~ or ~
Knowing your edges and practicing boundaries 

Despite the YOLO (You Only Live Once), Robert-Frost-Road-Less-Traveled fetishizing in American culture, pushing your edges isn’t always the best path for many of us. A lot of us have had our boundaries pushed or disregarded so often that it’s almost impossible to tell where our actual edges are. And if you don’t know where your edges are, pushing them can be dangerous or toxic.

In fact, pushing your edges often works best when you have a well-developed No muscle. So if you are working on knowing your edges and boundaries, say No when you’re a maybe.

But, if you’re feeling stuck, or wanting to shake things up, or are craving an experience of knowing what you’re made of, you may be a candidate for exploring what a committed Yes does in the face of a maybe.

What if you’re a maybe to both of those options?

Indecisive-womanI encourage you to try both, starting with the No. For a week, see what it’s like to say No whenever you’re a maybe. A friend wants you to go to a movie that you don’t know if you want to see? Your boss asks if you want to take on a project you’re uncertain about? Someone you aren’t sure if you’re into asks you out on a date? No, no and no. Look at all the space that emerges when you’re a clear no, instead of waffling in the maybe. Feel how good it feels to focus only on the things you’re a hell YES to.

The next week, see what it’s like to say Yes whenever you’re a maybe. Yes, I’ll go see that movie with you. Yes I’ll take on that project. Yes I’ll go on a date with you. Notice what things have you feel lit up and excited (those are clues about your desires) and what simply has you feel overwhelmed, even if on some level you like the idea of it. As you do the Yes part, keep saying No to the things that you are a clear No to.

I’ve found over time that there are periods or areas of my life when it’s better to have one default setting or the other. Sometimes I’m a default Yes in business and a default No in relationship (or vice versa). Sometimes I’m a default Yes to everything for a week or two when things feel stuck. Sometimes I’m a default No all over my life when I feel like I’ve lost my center.

Play around with your default settings, but decide ahead of time how you want to handle your Maybes.

Can You PLEASE Put That Phone Away?

At the Cuddle Party I facilitated today, a fascinating conversation about cell phone etiquette came up. One person commented that it was so hard to feel connected to people these days because it seems like people are on their phones all the time. When going to dinner with a friend, she said, the friend would be texting instead of talking with her.

The group spent some time sorting through which situations we thought it was acceptable to be attached to the phone in (waiting for a particular message to come through, being in communication with your kids or babysitter, being on call for work, etc.), we came to the question of how to address such behavior when it wasn’t okay.

There were several ideas we came up with:

  • Tell them to stop texting.
  • Be silent until they pay attention to you.
  • Give up hope on humanity’s ability to be connected in the face of digital technology.
  • And my favorite: “Text them and tell them to pay attention to you.”

These were offered in a mostly lighthearted way, but each suggestion had the unsettling qualities of being either totally passive/aggressive or pretty disempowered. There must be a better way! After much discussion, we ultimately decided the most positive and effective approach was this: To share the impact that it has on you when your friend is paying attention to the phone. It might look like, “When you’re messaging on your phone, I feel like I don’t matter to you. I’m wondering if you could set it aside for a little while until we’re done with dinner.”

By sharing the effect of your friend’s actions, your friend may become aware of something they didn’t know before. (That you were feeling like you didn’t matter.) By keeping it about what you are experiencing, it becomes something that you can’t get into an argument about. (Note the use of “I feel like…” instead of “you make me feel…”) And, by following it up with a request for a different sort of action, they’re not left wondering what you want them to do about it. (Set it aside until after dinner.)

The next time a friend or loved one is doing something that makes you feel crazy, try offering a sense of how their behavior is affecting you, and make a request. Let them make a choice about whether they want to do the thing you ask or not (if you don’t it’s not really a request.) And see what happens.