When was the last time you said “no” to someone?

Was it hard? Did you stumble over what to say? Any feelings of irritability show up? Or guilt?

Regardless of your mixed feelings, “no” was the right decision for you.

Saying “no” to an opportunity, request for help or suggestion is 100x more likely to impart goodwill, compassion and respect if your delivery is nice.

Delivering a clear “no” in a polite and friendly way is a virtue all of us can choose to develop and practice regularly.

In her article, Being Nice, An Endangered Virtue published in the Huffington Post, Cindi Bigelow advocates niceness:

“Niceness” isn’t part of any professional performance evaluation in Corporate America, probably because we sometimes operate under the misguided notion that nice guys, and girls finish last.

I’m here to dispel that notion. I look for “nice.” I need to see “nice,” not only in my kids, but also in my employees — all of them.

Cindi Bigelow is President of Bigelow Tea.

Let’s drink to that (Bigelow tea of course)!

Saying “no” nicely is a way to deliberately make a favorable impression.

We are constantly managing impressions of others in social situations.

Impression Management is an activity we do (or regret not doing well) to deliberately make ourselves look good to others.  Erving Goffman in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life conceptualized it first.

According to researchers, people use impression management in one of three ways: authentically, ideally, or tactically.

Here are the definitions and examples of when the persona is used.

1.Authentic persona—the way you see yourself; example: in the company of good friends, family and coworkers who know you

2.Ideal persona—the way you wish you were; examples: during a job interview, the first few dates, when you’re new to a group

3.Tactical persona— a way used to get to a certain end, often created out of what other people want or expect you to be; examples: on the job to appeal to a new client you adjust your usual style of easygoing (casual dress, irreverent comments) to a more formal style (business attire and less joking, less spontaneous quips or slang)

In this clip from the movie Tin Cup starring Kevin Costner, Rene Russo and Don Johnson, you’ll see how  Kevin Costner (a wanna-be boyfriend of Rene Russo) warns Rene Russo that Don Johnson (Rene Russo’s current boyfriend) really isn’t what she thinks he is. (He hates old people…children…dogs.)

Don Johnson shows us how someone doesn’t say “no” nicely and how his tactical persona (to be viewed as a benevolent golf pro) backfires as his girlfriend (Rene Russo) sees his true self.


Delivering his “no” nicely, Don Johnson could have repeated what he said earlier, I’m sorry, I’m scheduled elsewhere. Instead, his words were sarcastic and nasty.

The takeaway?

Impression management is key– especially when tired and stressed.

You’re more than likely going to lose the Rene Russos in your life. And the Kevin Costners too if you don’t work on saying “no” nicely.

Don’t let that happen! 😉

Here’s 5 more quick examples of how to say “no” to someone nicely. Start building your repertoire today.

#1–Persistent salesperson on the telephone:

No thanks. It’s still a no. Have a good day, I’m hanging up now.

#2–Friend who wants to meet for lunch:

I’m glad you asked, but I’m already scheduled. Next week?

#3–Someone who is more interested in you than you are in them:

You’ve done and said all the right things, I’m just not the right person to get them from you.

#4--An adult daughter or son who wants to stay at your house while you’re gone for a long weekend but gets offended because you want to go over some household procedures. She/he abruptly withdraws their request and ends the conversation.

(You call back the next day.)

You say:

I want to talk with you about your request yesterday on the phone. Okay?

I’m guessing you were put off that I wanted to go over some specific ways we have the house set up– specifically the security lighting. You were feeling like I don’t trust you. Am I right?

I want you to listen– carefully.

We (your stepmom and I) are okay with your staying at our house while we’re gone. I’m not okay with your unwillingness to go over the lighting system or any other thing about the house. It’s important to us.

So, I need to know later today if you are interested in using our house and if so, when you’ll be over to go over some things. If you don’t want to, that’s okay too.

We love you.

#5–Your boss asks for you to speak to a disgruntled customer on behalf of the company:

You say:

Thanks boss (for choosing me). Or,  I appreciate your confidence.

Here’s what you’re asking: (repeat the ask as you understand it, notice the agreement and make adjustments if you didn’t get it correctly).

These are the issues as I see it: (describe any concerns).

I’m willing to do abc, not xyz for these reasons.

I’m interested in your feedback.

In each of these examples, did you notice how gratitude was expressed early in the response? There was a “checking in” for accuracy. Humility too.

Polite and respectful. Nice.

Learn how to say “no” nicely.

Be aware of the impact you have on others.

Do some impression management.

What are you doing these days to be seen favorably by others?

Say yes to getting more ideas on saying no nicely.

I’m full of them. I‘m just a click away.