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How To Say "No" Without Sounding Nasty

Did you ever say no and then feel bad about it?

Or worse yet, say yes when you wanted to say no.

As an early childhood and family educator, I've had to say it many, many times over the last 43 years and I'll be the first to admit that it isn't always a piece of cake.

Tip #1

the best advice I've come across and used came from a book I read called Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenthal. 

To summarize a really great book in a few sentences, his method goes like this:

O-Observation. Here's where you state the facts and only facts. "I noticed you didn't take out the trash and you promised me you would." No judgment or name-calling allowed.

F-Feelings. Only your own feelings and don't make it their fault. Own your feelings. "I'm nervous it'll still be there when Aunt Penny arrives."

N-Needs. "I need the house to be ready for the guests when they arrive."

R-Request. "Can you get it out within the next 10 minutes, please?" Be as clear as you can be.

I"ve used this method many times and it works.  It works especially well when you know something difficult is coming and you can rehearse it ahead of time.

Since that isn't always the case, I'm going to give you a couple of back-up methods for addressing issues on the go. Like when someone says something to you and it really stings.


This method comes from Abigail Van Buren, (aka Dear Abby) and I've found it to be very effective. She says to answer with a question.

Why would you ask me a question like that?

If they truly had negative intentions, the ball is in their court to admit their feelings outright. Or they could have had a reason to ask that you never considered. Either way, you force them to admit their feelings outright.

Whatever you do, don't give another person the ability to "make" you sad or upset. It only gives them power over you! Instead, you can say this. "I'll agree to disagree on that, Uncle Howard." If they keep at it, just repeat that you'll agree to disagree. Unless you really want to argue with them. If so be my guest! It's your conversation, not mine.

I"ll end by giving you a few ways to simply say it. No explanations are needed. Remember, as an adult, you are in control of what you do, as well as what you say.

"No, I won't be able to take that on. It doesn't fit in my schedule. but I'd be happy to give you some quick advice on how to proceed by phone if you're up for that.

"No, I don't know the answer to that question. Maybe you could ask ???????."

"No, that's not for me, but feel free to enjoy it yourself.

No, I don't want to do that. It makes me feel uncomfortable."

"Seriously?" (Only use this one for absolutely ridiculous requests!)

"No". I'm going to pass.

I hope these ideas make your life a little bit easier.

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY!  (click on the word) She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.

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