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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

3 Better Ways to Say "I Don't Want to"

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I don’t want to.

How many times have you wanted to say those four words in your professional life? I’m willing to bet the number is pretty high.

Maybe you were looking for a way out of a networking event that your friend was begging you to attend. Perhaps you just really didn’t feel like meeting that acquaintance for coffee so she could “pick your brain.” Or, maybe you wished you could scream this in your boss’ face when you were tasked with a project that filled you with dread.

There’s no shortage of instances that are ripe for the use of this rejection. But, there’s something about saying you don’t want to do something that seems like a whiny and immature excuse.

Surely, there has to be a better way to get yourself out of something that you’d rather not do.

Good news: there is. Try one of these three statements that sound way more professional—even if your insides are only yelling, “Wahhh, I don’t wanna!”

1. “I Don’t Have the Time”

The majority of the instances when I find myself trying to sneak out of yet another commitment, my reasoning is simple: It’s because my schedule is already far too packed.

You know what? Being busy or booked is a perfectly justifiable reason for passing on something, so don’t be afraid to use it.

If you want to cushion the blow a little more, preface this statement with an, “I’d love to, but…” You might rather watch paint dry than do what that person is requesting, but they certainly don’t need to know that.

2. “Maybe Next Time”

This one works especially well for social obligations—like being invited out to a happy hour or a lunch date with a networking contact.

By referencing a “next time,” you’re politely shutting down that person’s request without brutally closing the door entirely.

Is it a little dishonest or passive aggressive—particularly if you never actually intend to do what’s being asked of you? Maybe. But, if your singular, current focus is staying far away from that event, this will get the job done.

3. “No, Thank You”

Sometimes keeping it simple really is the way to go, and I love this straightforward suggestion from Quora user and professor at Southern Virginia University, Orson Scott Card.

If and when you don’t want to do something, reply with a simple, “No, thank you.”

“If you explain, the person proposing the activity can argue, seek another day to do it, protest that you are mistaken in your reason for not doing the proposed activity,” says Card in his Quora response, “Eventually, you have to lie, get angry, be offensive, or give in.”

By repeating only this gracious rejection, you aren’t giving them any wiggle room to argue with you. They’ll have to accept the fact that you’re turning them down—or run the risk of looking rude if they continue to push when you’ve made it clear that you’re not interested.

There are plenty of things that you don’t want to do in your professional life (and, sorry, but sometimes you have no choice but to actually do them).

But, in those moments when you need an excuse better than, “Nah, I don’t want to!” rely on these three statements instead. You’ll pass on prospective obligations with just the right amount of politeness and professionalism.