24 Better Ways To Say “No” When You Can’t Do a Favor

Saying “no” is uncomfortable, but the alternative isn’t better. People may walk all over you if you don’t set boundaries for yourself.

So, the next time you don’t want to attend an optional after-work event or babysit your neighbor’s kid, practice declining using these phrases.

Mindfully American analyzed some of the most common scenarios when people need to say “no” and gathered responses that won’t make you feel guilty (or as guilty) for declining. Including a straightforward “no” is effective in many of these situations, but what you say around it can help make you sound more empathetic and steadfast in your response.

1: Too Busy

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We all have busy lives. And often, people ask for favors to help their lives become less busy.

Not only does “I don’t have the bandwidth to help with that” establish that you’re short on free time, but it may also help deter the person from asking for favors in the future — assuming that’s what you want, of course.

2: Schedule Conflicts

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If you struggle with saying no, remember this: You are ultimately in control of your own schedule, especially when it comes to your personal life. It’s hard for anyone to argue with “I can’t fit that into my schedule this week/month.”

If you’re dealing with a person who you know is pushy, adding “No” in front of that makes your decline sound even firmer while still kind.

3: Be Vulnerable

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It’s hard for someone to take your “no” the wrong way when you’re vulnerable. If, for example, your friend asks for a favor that makes you squirm, try saying, “I’m not comfortable doing that.”

Following “I’m not comfortable doing that” up with “Is there something else I can help you with instead?” shows that you’re not trying to be intentionally unhelpful.

4: Open To Learning

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If someone asks for a favor that you genuinely don’t know how to do but you’d be interested in learning, this line is a great go-to: “I’m not sure how to do that. Is this something you could teach me so I might be able to help you out in the future?”

5: Not Now

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Sometimes, less is more. When someone asks you for a favor you either don’t want to do or genuinely don’t have time for, keep this line tucked in your memory: “Now isn’t a good time. I’ll let you know if my schedule opens up.”

If you genuinely want to help with the same favor in the future, replace “if” with “when.”

6: Prior Commitment

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Honesty is the best policy when saying no to someone. If you already have something planned for the same day someone is needing you for a favor, say, “I already committed to (insert person or activity).”

You can even throw in, “I hope you understand.” Of course, they have to say they understand; otherwise, they’ll be the one looking bad.

7: Bad Timing

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No one can argue that timing is bad for you; that’s for you to decide. A simple “The timing isn’t good for me at the moment” goes a long way when declining a favor you can’t or don’t want to do.

8: All Good

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Saying “no” is more effective when you find a way that fits your personality. Saying, “I appreciate the offer, but I’m all good,” is an excellent way for a laid-back person to decline a favor.

9: Give It a Try

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We all know a coworker (or have been one) who needs hand-holding. If you’re tired of doing favors for said person, give this line a shot: “Can you try it yourself first? If you still can’t figure it out, I’ll jump in.”

10: Showing Appreciation

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If someone asks you a favor that’s personal to them, softening the words you use is an effective way to say “no.” Try saying, “It means a lot you thought of me. Unfortunately, I’m too busy with work/life to commit to this.”

11: That’s a Pass

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Saying “no” without using the word “no” involves leaving no room for doubt with the person you’re declining. A simple “I’m going to pass” is about as direct as it gets while still being kind.

If you’re open to doing the favor at a later date, add, “Perhaps we can circle back next week/month/year.”

12: Out of Moolah

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It isn’t cool for someone to make a person with financial struggles feel bad, so you can lean into this if someone asks you to lend them money. “I’m low on money” or “I’m putting every extra penny towards my debt” are perfectly acceptable ways to decline becoming a bank to your friends and loved ones.

Alternatively, if you’re in good financial standing but still want to say “no,” let the person know you can’t because you’re saving for a big-ticket item instead.

13: Here’s Hoping

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Using the phrase “I hope you can understand my answer is no” can be a great way to decline a favor. However, you should preced that line with an explanation about why you can’t do it.

If you don’t know the person well, keep the explanation short; they don’t need to know your whole life story.

14: Classic Introvert

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Some extroverts have trouble understanding the desire for an abundance of alone time, and there’s a reason why: Scientists have found that introvert and extrovert brains are physically different from one another.

Saying, “I’ve scheduled this week/weekend/month as alone time to help me recharge,” is a kind and acceptable way to say “no,” regardless of whether or not the extroverted people in your life understand it.

15: Due Diligence

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If someone at work asks you for a work-related favor that isn’t technically part of your job, try saying, “I can’t help, but (insert resource or person) might be able to.”

Of course, make sure you refer to someone whose job it is to help that person so you don’t put other colleagues in uncomfortable positions of having to say “no.”

16: Morals

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It’s not every day that someone asks for a morally questionable favor. But you’ll want to be prepared if it happens. “That falls outside my principles” is an excellent way to decline, and you might even want to add “No” at the beginning of it for extra emphasis.

17: Already Needed

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If you’re a person who has a lot of people relying on you, you might find yourself declining favor requests frequently. It’s best to be straightforward about your decline, explaining, “I can’t because my kids/partner/whoever needs me.”

You might find that by saying this, people who used to ask for favors a lot stop doing so.

18: Keeping It Simple

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“I’m afraid I can’t” is an excellent way to say “no” when you don’t know the person very well who’s asking for a favor.

While you can follow this up with an explanation, leaving it at that is often acceptable, especially if it’s because of something personal that you don’t want the near-stranger to know about.

19: Everyone’s Got Their Thing

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Another one-liner when you want to say “no” is “It’s not my thing.”

Since this is more informal, it’s a good way to decline a favor request among people you know well (and also know well enough to know they won’t take offense to it).

20: Instinctive

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Neurobiologists have found there’s a connection between the gut and instinct. So, when your gut tells you not to do a favor, go ahead and say it.

“My instinct tells me I shouldn’t” might sound like New Age gibberish to some, but you can bet your gut that the person probably won’t keep pressing you to do a favor for them.

21: Counting the Ways

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Let’s say you receive a group text from a friend asking for a favor. “Count me out” can be a chill way to say “no.” Depending on the situation, you can follow it up with an explanation.

22: Rainy Day

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If you’d normally do someone a favor but can’t, saying, “I have to give it a rain check,” can be a gentle way to say “no.” It leaves the door open for either of you to circle back to the favor request.

23: Honorable Mention

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If someone is asking a favor that involves a lot of trust, the kind thing to do is recognize that. Saying something along the lines of “I’m honored but can’t” acknowledges to the favor requester that you recognize it was a big deal they chose you.

24: Favor Fatigued

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One can only do so many favors. Saying “I’m all out of favors at the moment” cues the person that you’re currently unavailable to help them. It also has an underlying tone that many people ask you for favors, so they might back off with their favor asking in the future.

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