How to Say No “Gracefully”

Not too long ago, I received a fantastic email from Lysa TerKeurst. Lysa leads women in the adventure of faith and is a New York Times bestselling author and speaker. I joined in on her webcast last Tuesday and was tremendously blessed. Lysa is an excellent communicator and connector of people.

Have you ever said yes when you absolutely, positively knew that you should have said no?

I think we’ve all been there. Sometimes we experience guilt when we say no, and other times we say no while all the time thinking in the back of our minds, “what will she think?” “I should have said yes.”

Saying no doesn’t have to be hurtful. You will survive and so will the person you’re saying no to.


In a book I read last summer called Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend, they talk about “calculating the cost” of our endeavors:

So you were asked for something you weren’t sure you had left over to give. You weren’t sure you could do it with a “cheerful heart” (2 Cor. 9:7). What happened next is what this particular boundary yardstick is all about. You probably did one of two things:

1. Since you were unsure, you said yes.

2. Since you were unsure, you said no.

Which is the more mature of these? In most cases, the second. Why? Because it is more responsible to give out of our resources than to promise that which we might not be able to deliver. Jesus said that we are to “calculate the cost” of our endeavors.

‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him. (Luke 14:28-30)

Here are 10 ways to graciously say no that Lysa shared with us:


1. While my heart wants to say yes, yes, yes, the reality of my time makes this a no.

2. I am honored by your request, but I’m in a season of refocusing my priorities and have committed not to add anything new right now.

3. After living at an unhealthy breakneck pace for too long, I’m learning to realistically assess my capacity. Though I would love to say yes, the reality of my limitations means I must say no this time.

4. I so appreciate you asking me, but I must be brave and decline this opportunity. Saying no is hard for me but necessary in this season. Thank you for understanding.

5. I’ve promised my family not to add any new commitments to my schedule right now. Thank you for our friendship that allows me to be honest with my realities.


6. Thank you for thinking of me. Your project sounds wonderful. However, as much as I would love to be involved, I can’t give your project the attention it deserves right now.

7. While I would love to connect about your new project, I’ve discovered this is one of those activities I must give up while trying to ____________________ (write my book, start my business, stick to my project, etc.) Saying yes would just enable my unhealthy habit of procrastination. Thank you for understanding and helping me push through to the finish line.

8. There is nothing more that I love than helping others in my field get started. Unfortunately, I get so many requests for this that I’m no longer able to meet in person. So, I’ve created this attached document with my best advice. (Create a standard PDF for instances like this so you only have to type out your advice one time.)

9. While I don’t have time for a lunch appointment, I’d love to connect for a few minutes over the phone. I can talk from 8-8:30am.

10. Thank you so much for caring enough about me to want my involvement. Unfortunately, I’m not able to participate this time. But I’m certainly cheering for your continued success.

For more encouragement to know when to say yes and how to say no, check out Lysa’s new book, The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands. Click here to purchase your copy.

Question: Have you ever had a hard time saying no? What are some of your creative ways to say no? Share in the comments below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Yes! I have had difficulty saying no often. I think women in my generation were raised to be so compliant and agreeable that this is a “skill” I’ve had to learn. It gets easier with practice and the suggestions you shared were perfect!

  • Micki

    Thank you, Jevonnah, for sharing such sage advice! I am a people pleaser, but have been trying really hard to say no to both current and future opportunities (the ones that don’t clearly resonate with my goals), as I am most definitely in the mode of #3 above.

  • Marcy Travis

    This was a very helpful post, Jevonnah. I was just brainstorming with a close friend how to handle this very thing in the future as I focus on building my business. Thanks for the helpful wording!

  • Jevonnah Ellison

    I’m so glad it was helpful Marcy! I have Lysa to thank for many of them. Thanks for reading!

  • Jevonnah Ellison

    Thanks for sharing Micki! I’m so glad you found them useful!

  • Jevonnah Ellison

    Thanks for sharing Ann! Yes, learning how to say no gracefully is a skill we all have to learn. Blessings to you!

  • Sandy Svitak

    I love the Boundaries books! Thank you, Jevonnah, for these excellent examples to arm my arsenal with. I think it’s hard for women that have the gift of encouragement to say no. ALSO, My heart always wants to jump on board other’s worthy projects because I’m so grateful for help I’ve received from others in the past.

  • Jevonnah Ellison

    I completely understand where you’re coming from Sandy. Using these tips have helped me a bunch. Thanks for stopping by and reading! Blessings to you.

  • Excellent post. My wife and I read boundaries a few years ago. It helped us to develop the gift of ‘no’. We use to say ‘yes’ way too much. We have learned to put things in proper perspective. We realized we could not be and do everything.

  • Jevonnah Ellison

    Thanks Bernard. Putting the “big rocks” in first can be a huge difference maker. Congrats to you and your wife for getting it right. Blessings!

  • Karen Ray

    Jevonnah, Thank you for the timely reminder to “mind our boundaries.” I too read Cloud and Townsend’s book last year, wish I’d had this info in my 20’s. However, its never too late and was a great growth experience. Your graceful responses are helpful in rethinking how to handle those requests that might be the camel’s last straw.

  • Jevonnah Ellison

    Thanks so much for sharing, Karen! I have no doubt that even though you read Boundaries later on in life, the people in your life are still benefitting from you going through the material. Many blessings to you!

  • Sister April

    This post blessed me on today. Thanks for the advice. I shared the post within my circle of influence.

  • Jevonnah Ellison


  • Machelle Thomas

    I’ve found with myself that I rather be up front as much as possible, so that their is no misunderstanding…Beside communication is the key to a great relationship!!!

  • Jevonnah Ellison

    Awesome, Machelle! You’re right, communication is key.

  • Dinatu Habu

    Awesome teaching for me… God bless you Woman of God

  • One of the most challenging things about saying no is not tacking on an “I’m sorry.” Because…we have nothing to be sorry for!!!! We should apologize when our unhealthy words or actions harm others. Not when we decline and invite or an offer. None of those 10 ways Lysa (who I LOVE, by the way) has any type of an apology in them. That’s very intentional on her part.

    The Best Yes was a great read for me. Lysa has a heart of gold. It’s such a great reminder to say no to some of the good things so we can give our best yes to the GREAT things.

    Blessings to all of you, and thank you, Lady J.

  • Jevonnah Ellison

    Thank you, Dinatu!

  • Jevonnah Ellison

    My pleasure, Tricia! Thanks for your thoughtful comment also!