How to Say "No" Harmoniously
Updated: May 21, 2021
Saying “no” is difficult, especially when you want to be respectful and polite. Also, when a Japanese declines an invitation or request from a non-Japanese, the non-Japanese may not understand the indirect, nuanced, “It will be difficult,” which is actually meant to communicate, “Sounds nice! I would love to, but can’t. Hopefully next time!
So here are some suggestions about how you can say “no” while still being positive, clear, and harmonious.
Affirm the idea
It’s always good to be positive about the invitation even though you can’t accept it. Starting with a positive comment helps the other person know that you like them and that you like their idea, even if you can’t say “yes”.
Would you like to join us for dinner tonight?
That sounds really nice.
Letting the other person know that you appreciate the offer also shows a friendly and grateful attitude.
Thanks so much for the thoughtful offer!
Thanks for the kind invite! I really appreciate it.
Maybe, let me see
You can always postpone your decision. This can be helpful if you actually need to check your schedule or take time to think about your decision. Then, later you can give them your answer, either in person or via text, email, or phone.
Thanks again for the offer, but it looks like I won't be able to make it.
Thanks again, but it seems like I have something scheduled already, unfortunately!
Make a clear excuse
Regardless if you respond right away or first check your schedule, giving a clear reason why you are unable to accept the invitation helps the other person not feel bad or rejected. Maybe you have a specific appointment or prior engagement that you can mention. Just tell them the truth so they know you have no choice.
Unfortunately, I already have dinner plans with my family tonight.
I wish I could, but I have another commitment tonight.
However, sometimes we just don’t have the energy or desire to accept an invitation. If you’re too tired, or truly not interested, why would you simply say “yes” when you can do what you need and want without hurting the relationship?
In order to say “no” even if you don’t actually have a concrete excuse, just give a clear answer but without extra detail. They don’t need to know all the details about your plans, and a simple answer should be enough.
Sorry, but I can’t tonight.
Unfortunately, tonight won’t be possible.
Mention your hope for next time
Mentioning your hope for joining next time will help them know that you will try to join in the future and it will end the conversation in a positive way.
But I’d love to join you next time if I have a chance!
Hopefully next time will work out.
Keep me posted about next time, though!
In other situations, like if a colleague asks you to help them with a project, you might need to adjust how you respond. In this type of situation, I’d recommend asking for more information in order to properly evaluate how much commitment it would be and if you are actually the right person to help them.
Then, you can either say “yes” or you can explain why you may not be the right fit in terms of schedule or skill set.
In the end, you can recommend that they ask a different person to assist them or offer a creative solution to their request.
Can you help me with the project?
I’d love to help you if I can, but can you first tell me about the project and how you think I can help?
I need someone to help research a client.
Hmmm, how long would it take?
Maybe five hours?
I see. It seems like you need someone who has five hours available and who is really good at researching. (Confirm that you understand their problem)
I don’t think I’m the person with that skillset and I’m pretty busy this week. (Explain why you can't)
Have you asked Jamie if she has time? She’s a really good researcher. (Offer a alternative solution)
Oh, no problem. That's a good idea. I’ll check with Jamie. Thanks a lot.
You’re welcome. I hope you can get what you need! Let me know how it works out or if you need anything else.
Ultimately, with any type of invitation or request, it’s good to stay positive, express desire to be supportive, perhaps offer a creative solution, and express that you value the person. It’s a win-win situation for the relationship.
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