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How to politely decline

Deep down, it’s in human nature to be liked and seek affirmation from others. But, unfortunately, as hard as we try, sometimes we have to disagree or refuse to do something and say no to the person on the other side. This can be incredibly difficult for those people that fear backlash and want to be loved by all. So here are a few ways to politely decline, whether it’s for work such as customer service or any other everyday situation.

These work in emails, real-life conversations, over the phone, on a chat app, or any other situation where you need to decline someone’s request.

Apologize first

This might seem like an odd piece of advice, especially if you objectively haven’t done anything wrong. However, saying sorry before saying no has certain benefits. First, you let the other person know that there’s bad news coming. Second, you’re showing empathy, which can soften even the hardest blows. That’s how you simply politely decline.

Don’t beat around the bush

If you create an elaborate answer to someone’s question just to refuse their plea, two things can happen.

One, they might think that you’re lying because of how detailed your answer is.

Two, they will find a way to talk you into saying yes by finding a loophole in your answer.

So, instead of taking ten minutes to explain why you’re saying no, make it quick and painless. It will be more honest and there’s a smaller chance of an argument happening later on.

So, instead of: “I’m sorry, but I can’t drive you to the station tomorrow because my daughter has swimming lessons and if she misses those, her chances of going to the state championship are in danger.

Simply say…

Use the actual word

Sometimes, sugarcoating can do more harm than good. Instead of finding ways to soften the blow, go ahead and use the actual word with the person talking to you.

In this way, the person listening will have no doubt that your answer is negative. This is the easiest solution of them all, but at the same time the riskiest because you may come off as blunt or too direct.

Say NO twice, if you have to

Sometimes, people will keep insisting after hearing you decline for the first time. They could think that it’s possible to change your mind or that after enough convincing, you may give in. Simply (and politely) reaffirm your negative answer.

Forward them to someone else

One situation where people don’t have a problem hearing no is when you send them to someone else who might be of more help. That way, they won’t think of it as refusal, rather than help with getting what they really need. Of course, first, make sure that the person you’re sending them to can do the actual task.

Mirror their request

Speaking of empathy, one of the best tactics for getting away with a negative answer is to assume the same position as them. If it’s a difficult situation (or person) you’re dealing with, this can help in making your response seem not that negative. Just like the previous scenario, you’re starting off nicely before refusing.

Offer an alternative

Sure, getting no as an answer won’t feel that great to the person on the other end. However, if you give them an alternative that seems equally good, they’ll probably accept the refusal a whole lot better.

This is not always a possibility, as sometimes there is no alternative option. Also, bear in mind that giving an alternative may open up more unnecessary discussion.

Get back to them

Often times, someone’s request just isn’t possible to fulfill immediately. You may not know if it’s possible, you need another person’s authorization or it could be something completely different. In these situations, tell the person that you will check and get back to them at a later point in time. Of course, do make sure to actually get back to them.

Real-life example:

How to decline an invitation?

Let’s take a look at a specific example. How to decline a wedding invitation? If you cannot attend a wedding or maybe you do not want to come to a wedding, figuring out how to politely decline the wedding invitation can be often a struggle.

How to decline a wedding invitation samples:


Saying no or politely declining is one of the hardest things to do, no matter the situation, person, or language. These tips will help you say NO, more easily and avoid unpleasant situations with the person on the other end. If you would like to learn more, check out our Customer Communication article for further knowledge.

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