Getting Comfortable with “No”s

Learning to set boundaries is an important developmental milestone for college students. Saying “no” or declining to participate in something might be the right thing for a student to do – but it can also be a really hard thing to do. (I’m 52, and it has taken me a long time to get there myself.)

I found this article, How to (Nicely) Say No. It was written for a work setting, but I am adapting some of it for the college environment (and including some of the original statements from the article as well, since there were many excellent suggestions). These might be a bit more formal than normal college-speak, but you’ll get the idea. Here goes:

For social situations/invitations

  • “Unfortunately, I have too much to do today. Maybe I can join you next time.”
  • “I appreciate you inviting me, but I can’t make it.”
  • “That sounds fun, but I have a ton of homework/studying to do.”
  • “Sorry, I have already committed to something else. I hope you understand.”
  • “I would love to join you, but I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with school right now.”
  • “I really shouldn’t go out this time, but thank you.”

For requests for help on a task (informal tutoring, study groups, run an errand, etc.)

  • “Sadly, I cannot help with that. I don’t have the bandwidth right now.”
  • “How about you try the homework on your own first, and then I can help you if you get stuck?”
  • “The timing right now isn’t good. Hopefully another time.”
  • “I enjoyed helping you last time, but I am slammed right now.”
  • “My schedule is jammed. Maybe check with someone else from our class?”
  • “I’ve been feeling too busy lately. I will have to decline this time.”
  • “Unfortunately, I cannot say ‘yes’ this time. Please know it is nothing personal.”
  • “I can’t help you study tonight, but I have a study guide I can forward to you.”

If asked to do something outside your comfort zone, or someone presses you to change your mind

  • “This doesn’t feel right for me, so I’ll pass.”
  • “I told myself I wouldn’t do that again. Thanks for respecting my decision.”
  • “No, I can’t do [insert]. I would appreciate it if you accepted my choice.”
  • “I’m not comfortable going into details, but I hope you can understand that I can’t do that.”
  • “This doesn’t seem like a healthy decision for me. I will have to regretfully decline.”
  • “Agreeing to this would go against what I believe in. Thank you for being understanding of that.”
  • “I’ve had a negative experience with that before, so I’ll have to decline.”
  • “I don’t feel comfortable with you pressing me on that. Please respect my decision.”

If you do not have the financial means to do something

  • “I’ve been spending too much money lately, so I will have to decline, but thank you for the invitation.”
  • “I’m low on cash right now. Can we do something that’s free?”
  • “I can’t make it for dinner, but I’d love to catch up with everyone afterwards. Tell me where I can meet the group once you’re back on campus.”
  • “I can’t join you for [the activity] this time, but I know [name] might like the opportunity to do that. Perhaps you can invite them?”
  • “That sounds so exciting, but I’ll have to wait for another time to do that with you.”

Saying “no” is an important skill to learn. I wish I had been more comfortable with it in my younger days. One thing that has helped me set boundaries and say “no” is to choose a “no” statement and stick to it. If pressed, repeat it over again, with no extra embellishment or apology. People tend to get the message when you are firm (but kind) in your “no.”

This may not be something your Deac needs, or doesn’t need right now. Save this post for later if it serves you (and scroll past if it does not!)

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