Oh, No! How To Say “No” To Mom And Other Family Members

Having trouble saying no to mom and other loved ones?

Are you one of those people who finds it harder to say no to friends and family than your employer? If you are, you may be looking for a few tips on how to say no without damaging important relationships. After all, your boss is probably less likely to take your refusal personally. 

The key to saying no to someone in your social circle is to cushion the rejection with words that express how much you value the offer. (And you do value that invitation to the retro roller-skating hour, right?)

Turning down an invite

Turning down an invite for mandatory fun at the office can be handled with a variety of phrases that emphasize the no while sounding professional. One example is the phrase No, that’s not going to be possible. Using the words not and possible together can emphasize your no while avoiding using the taboo, impossible.

However, your friends would probably feel a little hurt if you respond to their invitation with a cold No, that’s not going to be possible or I’ll have to pass. So, here are some other options.

“Bummer, I can’t …”

Instead, try softening your no by letting them know that you’re disappointed you cannot make it. Try adding a casual oh bummer, oh no, or dang to your response:

“Can you come to my birthday party?”
Dang, I don’t feel very comfortable going to social gatherings right now because of the social distancing guidelines.”

These more casual phrases can let your friends know that you are probably just as sad as they are. A well-placed bummer, which in this context means “a disappointment, drag, or downer,” can express those sentiments succinctly and thoroughly, without the coldness or formality of using a word like regrettably

As an added benefit, these more casual ways of saying no translate well over text and direct message. 

In fact, if you are saying no via technology, try throwing in an argh (an exclamation of frustration or annoyance) or an ugh (an exclamation used to express disgust, aversion, and horror) to drive your point home. 

“I would love to but …”

You may receive an offer for something you cannot (or do not) want to have. 

Maybe your BFF just KonMaried her house, and wants to give you her complete collection of Friends DVDs. Instead of telling her those things do not bring you joy either, consider saying, “What a shame! I would have loved to take them, but I just don’t have any room for them.” 

Did you notice that you did not even have to say the word no in that example? Neither did your friend. Using the word love and focusing on the positives of the offer diverts any attention to the negative: your refusal. 

“OMG! That’s awesome …”

Similarly, you can turn down an invite without saying no by hyping up your enthusiasm before declining, especially if it is something you genuinely wanted to do.

“I’m going to have a picnic at the park today, do you want to come? I’ll bring the drinks!”
“OMG, really?! That sounds so fun! Today though? Ugh, I can’t do today.” 

Your friend is likely to focus on your excitement, thanks to your enthusiastic OMG! coupled with the fact that you thought the offer was awesome. Your eventual disappointment (and their own) is less likely to register.

Offer an alternative

If you know of a mutual acquaintance who would actually love to own 10 seasons of Friends on DVD, say something.

When turning down an invite, you can also suggest something else that you and your friend can do together at a later time. Don’t assume that your friend knows how much you value their friendship. You have a chance to emphasize that you want to spend time together, and your no applies only to this invitation. A virtual get together (during times of social distancing) or a plan for a later date when we’re all getting back to our normal lives lets your family and friends know you’re thinking about and looking forward to a future time when you can get together with them.

No means “no”

Of course, the word no is a sentence in and of itself. No means “no,” and no should always be treated as the final word on the matter.

If you feel like someone is not hearing your no, you should feel free to say it as loudly, or as many times as you need to, in order to get your point across. And you should feel fully empowered to do so without needing to employ any of the tips or tricks above.

You can read our tips for saying no at the office right here.

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