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How to decline an invitation without being a jerk

We ALL have invitations, obligations, things we don’t really want to do. You can say no effectively while still being polite and avoiding hurt feelings.

Ramit Sethi

We ALL get invitations we don’t really want to accept. What do we do? Usually it’s (1) say yes, then regret it later, or (2) ignore it, hoping it will go away, until our ignoring it actually becomes rude.

In truth, wouldn’t you rather have someone be honest and say right up front, “Thanks for the invitation. I wish I could help, but this isn’t the right fit.” As opposed to dragging it out and giving you false hope?

Exactly. So why don’t you do it?

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The answer is most of us are people pleasers.

I used to have an inbox full of things I wanted to say no to but didn’t. I told myself I didn’t want to be rude, but truthfully, I didn’t know how to turn people down politely.

The danger in saying “yes” to invitations

People pleasing manifests in subtle ways. For example, how many times have you said, “Sure, I’ll do that…it can’t hurt.”

And two weeks later, you have to go to some dumb party/event you committed to, which you actually don’t want to go to, and you hate yourself. Oh well…“it can’t hurt, right?”

Actually, it can!! There’s nothing wrong with helping other people, but when you start saying “yes” to things that are distracting and drain you of energy, you can’t make the maximum impact on the world.

The wrong way to decline an invitation

How many times this month have your friends (or even you!) said something like…

  • “Sorry, something came up. I’ll catch you next time”
  • “I don’t know if I can do that. I’m just so swamped at work, you know?”
  • “I’m too busy to do that right now. I’ll get to it later”

All of us — CEOs, politicians, Ph.D candidates, mothers of 2 — have the same 24 hours in a day. It’s OK to recognize when “no time” is actually a blanket excuse for not doing something you don’t want to do.

When you find yourself saying any of the phrases above, stop and evaluate why.

Maybe it’s not a priority for you right now. Maybe you just really don’t want to do it. Both of these thoughts are perfectly fine. We’ll save everyone a lot of time and effort by recognizing (and acting on) what’s really going on.

The next time someone offers you an invitation, instead of saying “I don’t have time,” be honest with them and yourself.

2 scripts to politely decline and save hurt feelings

The truth is, people will understand when you decline an invitation politely and clearly. Try one of these word-for-word scripts for saying “no.”

Script 1: Declining a business proposal or random acquaintance

Hi NAME,

Thanks for this invitation. I’m flattered! Unfortunately, I’ve got my priorities set for the year and this just doesn’t fit in. Again, thanks for thinking of me.

-YOUR NAME

Script 2: Declining a friend/relative

Hi NAME,

That sounds really fun and interesting, but I’m going to pass so I can focus on a couple other things I really want to do [this week, this month, insert time frame here].

-YOUR NAME

These may be more straightforward than you’re used to… but that’s the point. You’ll be surprised at how well they are received. People will appreciate the honesty rather than waffling and dragging on the conversation.

They’re simple, but very powerful.

The magic that happens when you take back your time

You’ll be amazed how it feels to clear out the cobwebs of obligations and start off fresh.

Learning how to politely decline an invitation will:

  1. Make others value your time and commitments
  2. Force you to be honest with yourself about what’s important
  3. Free up your mental energy to worry about things you actually care about

The best part?

Once you make the decision, you can live GUILT-FREE and use your energy to commit to things you’ll actually do.

I’ve spent over a decade looking for little shortcuts like these scripts. Small wins that can free up time and make me more effective.

I put together 15 more “Life Hacks” to take back your time and make your life easier.

These are experiments in time management, health, relationships, and more from experts such as:

  • BJ Fogg, one of my mentors, the director of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, and founder of TinyHabits
  • Neil Strauss, NYT bestselling author of The Game
  • Noah Kagan, Chief Sumo at AppSumo.com, the store for entrepreneurs
  • Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint and founder of MarksDailyApple.com
  • Nicholas Kho, co-founder of RSDNation.com and Real Social Dynamics
  • Neil Patel, co-founder of CrazyEgg.com and KISSmetrics.com
  • Paras Chopra, founder of VisualWebsiteOptimizer.com
  • Scott Young, founder of ScottHYoung.com
  • Josh Kaufman, bestselling author of The Personal MBA and founder of PersonalMBA.com

You can get all of them, free below. Just tell me where to send them!

Get your time back with these 15 Little Life Hacks

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