How to politely decline (2023)

Deep down, it’s in human nature to be liked and seek affirmation from others. But, unfortunately, as hard as we try, sometimes we have to disagree or refuse to do something and say no to the person on the other side. This can be incredibly difficult for those people that fear backlash and want to be loved by all. So here are a few ways to politely decline, whether it’s for work such as customer service or any other everyday situation.

These work in emails, real-life conversations, over the phone, on achat app,or any other situation where you need to decline someone’s request or write a bid rejection letter.

Apologize first

This might seem like an odd piece of advice, especially if you objectively haven’t done anything wrong. However, saying sorry before saying no has certain benefits. First, you let the other person know that there’s bad news coming. Second, you’re showingempathy, which can soften even the hardest blows. That’s how you simply politely decline.

I’m sorry, but we had to refuse your request to move to another department.

Don’t beat around the bush

If you create an elaborate answer to someone’s question just to refuse their plea, two things can happen.

One, they might think thatyou’re lying because of how detailed your answer is.

Two, they will find a way to talk you into saying yes by finding a loophole in your answer.

So, instead of writing a whole application denial letter, make it quick and painless. It will be more honest and there’s a smaller chance of an argument happening later on.

So, instead of: “I’m sorry, but I can’t drive you to the station tomorrow because my daughter has swimming lessons and if she misses those, her chances of going to the state championship are in danger.

Simply say…

I’m sorry but I can’t help you, I have something planned out for tomorrow.

Use the actual word

Sometimes, sugarcoating can do more harm than good. Instead of finding ways to soften the blow, go ahead and use the actual word with the person talking to you.

No, I’m afraid I can’t do that for you.
That’s not possible at the moment.
I would rather not get into that kind of situation.

In this way, the person listening will have no doubt that your answer is negative. This is the easiest solution of them all, but at the same time the riskiest because you may come off as blunt or too direct.

Say NO twice, if you have to

Sometimes, people will keep insisting after hearing you decline for the first time. They could think that it’s possible to change your mind or that after enough convincing, you may give in. Simply (and politely) reaffirm your negative answer.

As I said, I’m afraid I can’t help you at the moment.
As I previously mentioned, we don’t give discounts to seniors.

Forward them to someone else

One situation where people don’t have a problem hearing no is when you send them to someone else who might be of more help. That way, they won’t think of it as refusal, rather than help with getting what they really need. Of course, first, make sure that the person you’re sending them to can do the actual task.

I can’t help you at the moment since I’m not an expert on tax, but Susan from accounting can give you a hand.
While I can’t solve this problem immediately, I can connect you with someone from customer service to help you out.

Mirror their request

Speaking of empathy, one of the best tactics for getting away with a negative answer is to assume the same position as them. If it’s a difficult situation (or person) you’re dealing with, this can help in making your response seem not that negative. Just like the previous scenario, you’re starting off nicely before refusing.

You’re right, we did take too long when processing your request. However, I cannot help you at this time.
It’s true that we haven’t done enough for your case. However, I don’t think we can really help you out with your request.

Offer an alternative

Sure, getting no as an answer won’t feel that great to the person on the other end. However, if you give them an alternative that seems equally good, they’ll probably accept the refusal a whole lot better.

I’m afraid I can’t give you a discount on a premium plan, but I can give you another month of free trial.

This is not always a possibility, as sometimes there is no alternative option. Also, bear in mind that giving an alternative may open up more unnecessary discussion.

Get back to them

Often times, someone’s request just isn’t possible to fulfill immediately. You may not know if it’s possible, you need another person’s authorization or it could be something completely different. In these situations, tell the person that you will check and get back to them at a later point in time. Of course, do make sure to actually get back to them.

I can’t tell you where your shipment is at the moment, but I will check up on that and let you know sometime tomorrow if that works for you.
While I can’t help you out at the moment, you can check back tomorrow and see if we have any more of those shoes in stock.

Real-life example:

How to decline an invitation?

Let’s take a look at a specific example. How to decline a wedding invitation? If you cannot attend a wedding or maybe you do not want to come to a wedding, figuring out how to politely decline the wedding invitation can be often a struggle.

How to decline a wedding invitation samples:

Thank you so much for the invitation. Unfortunately, I am unable to attend. Congratulations to both of you. Have a lovely day!
I am sorry, but I cannot make it in person. Would love to celebrate with both of you when we get the chance. Anyways, congrats to both of you!


Saying no or politely declining is one of the hardest things to do, no matter the situation, person, or language. These tips will help you say NO, more easily and avoid unpleasant situations with the person on the other end. If you would like to learn more, check out our Customer Communication article for further knowledge.

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Frequently asked questions

  • How do you say no respectfully?

    Saying no or politely declining is one of the hardest things to do, no matter the situation, person, or language. However, you can always approach in respectfully with a bit of kindness. For instance, Thanks for this opportunity, but I have to decline this offer at the moment. However, I look forward to another potential collaboration in the future.

  • How to politely decline a business offer?

    Start with showing appreciation for the offer, but then be straightforward. Additionally, you can demonstrate the reasons why you have to decline the offer. However, if you want to decline a business offer but at the same time leave the door open for another opportunity, make sure you express it towards the end.

  • Is declining an invitation rude?

    There are certain times when you need to decline an invitation. It is definitely not rude if you reasonably approach this situation. Remember, apologize, but be straightforward, or in other words, don’t beat around the bush, and offer an alternative if appropriate.

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