“No.” It may be an easy word to pronounce, but it sure can be a difficult one to say aloud. No.

Chances are you’ve been in a situation where someone asked something of you and you didn’t know what to say. You felt like the proverbial deer in headlights – caught off guard – wanting to say no and not knowing how to do so gracefully.

Depending on your personality type, saying “no” can be especially difficult, but here’s the good news. Regardless of your unique combination of letters – ENFP, INTJ or any of the other 14 combinations – you can master the art of positive refusal by following a straightforward four-step approach, each and every time the opportunity arises.

Knowing ahead of time that you have a strategy for processing any request will simplify your future decision-making and you may find saying “No” easier than you ever thought possible.

Thank First

Yes, you read that right. The first step to crafting a good response isn’t to think, it’s to thank. One of the best ways to gracefully handle any request is to put yourself in the requester’s shoes. Anytime someone asks for something they are putting themselves at risk for rejection. Whatever the request may be, it takes a little courage to step out and ask someone to do something for them. A great way to build relationships is to recognize that effort and graciously thank the requester. You’ll find this step validates the other person and puts them at ease – regardless of your response.

It doesn’t matter what the situation is – it could be work-related or personal in nature, begin by thanking the requester for thinking of you and offering you the opportunity.

Let’s look at a couple of different examples:

Your boss asks you to come into work next weekend. You have no intention of giving up your Saturday to go in as you already put in enough hours Monday through Friday. Or, a friend asks you to accompany them at a concert at the last minute. You aren’t interested. Even if you would rather have a root canal than accept the invitation you can express your appreciation for being asked. You don’t have to gush or be over-exuberant, just be sincere and say something like, “Thank you so much for thinking of me.” Or, “I appreciate you asking.” It’s an all-season, all-personality way to build rapport, even if your answer is ultimately “no.”

Pause and Consider the Request

Introverts naturally know how to reflect first and act later. If you are an extravert however, you may not even think of delay as an arrow in your quiver of options. Before you rush to your “no,” give the request some thought and don’t be afraid to ask for time to consider it. Sometimes a request comes in at the last minute and we naturally feel like we have to provide an immediate answer. But that’s not always the case. See if you can take a moment or longer to respond, then ask the requester how soon they need their answer by. Taking time to review the request will ensure you give a suitable, thoughtful response.

If you tend to naturally go with your gut, give yourself the chance to put on your thinker’s cap and look at the request logically and less emotionally. If you are already a thinker, take the time to consider the impact your response could have on the feelings of the people involved, including your own. You may find that after some deliberation there are more compelling reasons to say yes than no.

Ask For More Information

Even if you already know what your answer will be, take a moment to clarify the request before responding. Sometimes we don’t take the time to understand what it is we’re saying “No” to. Feelers and Perceivers may borrow a page from the Sensors and Judgers on this one.

“Can you babysit for me on Saturday?” That might sound like a loathsome option if it entails an all-nighter with three unruly children. What if you found out it was just for one hour, or included a trip to your favorite amusement park?

That overtime request you’d never accept? What if meant double comp time or even a promotion? Perhaps, under certain circumstances, you could be agreeable. Don’t miss an opportunity to say “Yes” by assuming information or without gathering all the pertinent data.

Offer a Positive Declarative Statement

Even if you will be declining the invitation or opportunity, you can frame your decision in a positive way by keeping your non-verbal communication upbeat. People respond to not only what we say, but how we say it. A refusal doesn’t have to be a negative event. Your body language can still convey warmth and enthusiasm, while your words decline the opportunity.

If your answer is indeed no, state that as clearly as possible. Don’t equivocate. “I cannot make it Friday evening.” Say that with a smile. Feeler personality types will want to keep in mind that you are saying no to the opportunity offered – not the person offering it. You don’t have to apologize for your “No.” You are declining the offer, not rejecting the requester.

Thank, Clarify, Think and Respond

Even if you have to give an almost immediate response to a request or invitation, you can still quickly run through this four-step process. When you thank the requester, clarify the opportunity, then evaluate and respond positively. This way, you bring the best personality aspects to the exchange, helping to make good decisions while preserving your relationships.

Ellen Lambert
Ellen Lambert studied at California State University Fullerton and the University of California Santa Barbara, earning an MA in interpersonal communication. A motivational speaker and writer focusing on health, well- being, and self-improvement, she is a card-carrying ENFP, and also serves as a BHQC, (bad habit quitting coach). She is committed to helping others free themselves from the habits that hold them back from living the lives they can enjoy. She lives with her ISTJ husband Charles and their INTP German Pincher, Rex Luther in Buffalo, Texas.