3 Tactful Ways to Politely Decline Requests

April 21, 2022

If you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing you have many of the common traits of a Purposeful Hustler—ambition, motivation, and the drive to make a positive impact. These are admirable traits, but they can also get you into trouble if you let them run wild. There are times when Purposeful Hustlers (myself included!) make too many commitments and become stretched too thin. Or, a Purposeful Hustler might say “yes” to something when they are well aware that they should have said “no.”

Saying yes is not always a bad thing. Agreeing to do things that stretch your skills or push you outside your comfort zone can help fuel your development, build resilience, and equip you with a new set of skills. There are times, however, when saying yes does more harm than good.

If you’ve overcommitted yourself and, as a result, your relationship with your family begin to suffer, that’s harmful.

If you say yes to something that you’re morally or ethically against, that’s harmful.

If you agree to something that is far beyond your abilities and interests and end up agonizing over it and, ultimately, not meeting the standards, that’s also harmful.

In short, it’s a good idea to understand your limits and stick to them. Don’t overcommit yourself to the point of exhaustion or agree to take something on that would be better suited for someone else. Instead, draw a line in the sand and say NO.

But how? Saying no can feel awkward or abrasive, especially for those of us who are chronic overachievers. Try taking one of these tactful approaches:

1. Offer an Alternative


If someone asks you to do something beyond your capacity or outside of your sweet spot, you can tactfully say no by offering a viable alternative. If, for instance, this person wants you to complete a certain task by next week, you might make a counter-offer:

“I would like to say yes, but my schedule is packed. I could, however, take care of this task in two weeks. How does that sound?”

Alternatively, if the proffered task is outside of your area of expertise, you might provide the name of someone else who would be better suited to the task:

“Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m really not the best fit for [insert task]. Have you tried talking with Lauren? This sounds like a great fit for her skillset.”

In this case, you may want to touch base with Lauren before offering her name. That way, she won’t be caught off-guard by an upcoming request.

2. Meet One-On-One


Whether your boss is overloading your plate with work or a volunteer organization is asking for too many hours of your time, it’s a good idea to sit down and have a candid conversation with the person who is making the ask. It’s possible this person has no idea that they are stretching you too thin.

Before the meeting, be sure to do a little preparation so you can make a clear, concise case for easing your workload a bit. Briefly go over your current commitments and demonstrate that you’ve reached your capacity. In some cases, you might offer a little flexibility and suggest some ways that your responsibilities could be reshuffled or delegated to others so you can make room for new assignments.

In many cases, simply sitting down and talking can help clear the air. You can have a back-and-forth discussion, instead of sending out an email and hoping you make your point.

3. Communicate Clearly


Sometimes, you can simply say no without having to offer alternatives or set up a meeting. This is part of setting healthy boundaries and clearly communicating your limits. Keep in mind, turning down a request isn’t inherently rude. There are several ways to say no gracefully, such as:

“Thank you for thinking of me, but my schedule does not allow me to take this on at the moment.”

“I appreciate this opportunity, but I have other commitments that will get in the way.”

“I would like to say yes, but I have too much on my plate right now.”

“I’d like to help, but I’m not taking on any new projects now.”

“Thank you for contacting me about this opportunity, but I need to politely decline.”


It’s not always easy to say no, but sometimes it is the best path forward. Before you agree to something that doesn’t fit with your interests, skillset, capacity, or ethics, take a moment to think it over. Will it be worth it to say yes? Can you tactfully say no or, at the very least, make a viable counter-offer? Have the courage to stand up for yourself and do what’s right for you. 

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