How to Refuse Requests

Tips to Learn How to Refuse Requests

Learning how to say "no" is part of becoming assertive. Getty / Richard Coombs

Learning how to refuse requests can be tough. If you suffer with social anxiety disorder (SAD), you may have a problem saying no to other people. In your eagerness to please others, you may overlook your own needs and limits of what you can do.

Although this type of behavior helps you avoid immediate confrontation, it may lead to frustration both for you and those around you if you cannot meet obligations or consistently back out at the last minute.

It is, therefore, important to learn how to refuse requests that are unreasonable or that do not fit with your circumstances.

Requests may come from the following individuals:

  • Friends
  • Family members
  • Coworkers
  • Supervisors
  • Acquaintances

Consider your gut feeling and the logistics of what you are being asked to do. Realize that the person making the request may not know of your other commitments. It is up to you to communicate if a request conflicts with other plans that you have.

Follow these tips when refusing a request:

Be Clear

When refusing a request, it is best to give a simple answer and explanation.

For example, if you have been asked to help out with a church function on the same day as your daughter's dance recital, simply say,

"I'd really love to help out, but my daughter has her first dance recital that afternoon. I'm afraid I would be trying to fit too much in, so I'll have to say no."

Avoid Manipulation

In general, others will appreciate your honesty and will negotiate a solution that works for both of you.

If you receive a negative response after refusing a request, be sure to stand your ground. You have the right to consider and respect your own needs and do not need to apologize for doing so.

Offer Alternatives

Consider alternative suggestions instead of just saying no. Perhaps you know someone else who would like to go to a social function in your place or help out with a volunteer task.

Just be sure not to put someone else in an awkward position by promising more than they may be able to offer.

Be Kind

Just because you are saying no, does not mean that you can't be kind, gracious, grateful, and empathetic in how you respond to a request. Don't burn bridges, because you never know when you may want to say "yes" in the future. Treat others with respect as you say no.

Refusing Requests and Social Anxiety

Learning to turn down requests or say no is part of being assertive, a skill that most people with social anxiety need to develop. Increasing your assertiveness will make it more likely that your needs will be met in social situations.

In one small study2 of assertiveness training with psychiatric patients, a significant decrease in social anxiety was seen after training, but the improvement did not continue after one month. These results suggest that continually practicing assertiveness skills may be necessary to improve your social anxiety.


1. Andrew Kukes Foundation. How assertiveness skills can help you combat your social fears. Accessed September 22, 2015.

2. Lin YR, Wu MH, Yang CI, Chen TH, Hsu CC, Chang YC et al. Evaluation of assertiveness training for psychiatric patients. J Clin Nurs 2008 Nov; 17(21): 2875-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2008.02343.x

3. Markway BG, Carmin CN, Pollard CA, Flynn T. Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia. Oakland, CA: Harbinger; 1992.

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