How to say NO to invitations when you don’t like someone (2021 Update)

1. Life is too short to waste it trying to impress people we don’t even like.

Your life is busy. And it ain’t slowing down any time soon. I think we secretly love being busy, but sometimes the over-engineered weekends can get a bit much (check out this fab article about burnout). And if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that life is precious. As lockdowns lift, and events kick back into place, the issue of saying a big phat NO to invitations to spend time with people you simply don’t like still exists.

Whether it’s a boring work thing, a tiresome friendship you think you’re starting to outgrow, or simply someone who just gives you a negative vibe, saying no is critical. Why? Because when you say no to one thing it gives you the opportunity to say yes to something else.  

Saying no to invites can feel like a bit of a cop-out when you can’t articulate why with justifiable reasons. And this is where we end up going to events onyl to – yet again!- discover we just should have said NO.

The brain fog and lack of clarity is real. As humans we crave connection and some us are chronic people pleasers and rocking the boat is more work than just keeping the peace.

2. What to actually say: create a go-to phrase

Below are some phrases to help you out. No excuses, no clear reasons, you’re just saying No. Feel free to add your own emoji’s.

I do think it’s important to either say thank you or sorry – just to soften it and be polite. Usually, I am 100% against saying the unnecessary “sorry”, but I do think it is an element of ingrained politeness (but that may just be my British origins!). Choose and copy/paste what feels right for you.

I do think it’s important to either say thank you or sorry – just to soften it and be polite. Usually, I am 100% against saying the unnecessary “sorry”, but I do think it is an element of ingrained politeness (but that may just be my British origins!). Choose and copy/paste what feels right for you.

  • Thank you kindly for the invite, I can’t make it but enjoy.
  • Sorry, thanks so much for the invite, I really appreciate it, but I can’t make it this time.
  • Hey! Awesome idea, wish I could make it but flat chat atm.
  • I would, if I could, but can’t. Thanks for the invite tho.
  • I can’t make it but have a lovely time.
  • Soz, can’t make it. But thanks.
  • Sorry, can’t make it this time. Have an awesome time.

3. Ditch the word “should”

The word ‘Should’ has become a cop-out word. Google defines it as “the word should is used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.”

Obligation.

Duty.

Correctness.

Typically when critizing?

Wearing a mask since Covid hit? Yes you should, that is our duty. Accepting an invitation to attend a dinner party with a few others you don’t really like? Hmmm, not so much of a duty or obligation.

If someone doesn’t fit with you values, you have no obligation to continue to layer up that relationship. But where you’re at right now, is probably a habit if saying “yes”. You will need to start testing out the art of saying “no”. And there are gentle and polite ways to do this. But first, you need to start giving yourself permission to say no.

4. Speed has got your back. Say ‘No’ fast.

You get the invitation, roll your eyes instantly and start looking for reasons to say no. Whether you feel you need to cobble together a decent excuse or not, as soon as you receive the invite, respond stat! Send a DM or SMS to the host letting them know you can’t make it. Or if it’s a phone call, confidently say that you can’t make it, but thank them for the invitation.  

Rip that band-aid off and decline the invitation. Saying “I’ll get back to you” when you know it’s a no is a waste of everyone’s time. Be decisive and own it. It’s your life and your time. Not theirs – seriously. 

Saying no fast communicates confidence and self assurance. The host will respect that you let them know ASAP. And it’s much better than if you send a sheepish message 6 hours later following the chat thread of no’s ahead of you.

And above all: avoid the mundane follow ups and them trying to beg you to come. Respect your own boundaries and they will too – even if it takes a few times!

5. Say ‘No’ when you know you don’t want to go

“Ah, but what if they get annoyed that I can’t come?”

“Crumbs. I said I would go but I’m 1000% double booked…”

“ Ugh so-and-so will be there, let’s not run into them…”

Whatever the reason is, once you know you can’t go, jump on the net or phone and let the host know. A few messages back and forth now is better than being a no-show or letting them know at the last minute when they have booked a restaurant or purchased food and drinks assuming you’ll be joining them.

6. You don’t need to give a reason or excuse

Concocting excuses in your head as to why you can’t make it because you don’t actually have a genuine one?

Forget it. Just say no. It’s enough. Also, I do beleive that lame excuses come back to bite you (Hi Karma!)

Like when you call in sick at work – no one needs to know what the Doctor said. A simple “I was just under the weather” will suffice for 99% of the office. For the other 1%, repeating the same line will shut them up. 

For invites, simply saying you can’t make it will suffice. For those that dig for specifics, you can follow up with the same line. Close off the discussion. They don’t NEED to know what you are up to. 

Create a new habit of saying no without reasons. You can do it. 

7. Don’t leave the RSVP to the last minute

As someone who loves entertaining, a last-minute cancellation is more than annoying. And yes, not everyone likes me and that’s okay because that is life. But what’s annoying is when you know someone is a chronic canceller, but always draaaaags it out.

I get that kids get sick and whatnot, but if they were up all night, an SMS sent at 8 a.m is better than one sent at 2 p.m. Parent yourself, and say no when you know it’s a no. Again, even if you can’t provide a detailed reason, just say no.

Last-minute cancellations scream “I don’t value your time” – which is probably true, but unnecessarily rude. Don’t be that person. Say no as early as possible. And don’t say yes, when you kinda know you will back out later.

8. Sitting on the fence whether to say Yes or No?

Weighing up the positives and negatives of going can be an endless circle. If your initial gut reaction is no, go with that. Even if you can’t articulate in words why you can’t go. Your body is a smart cookie and sometimes just needs a break. If you are unsure if you should make the effort, here are some ways to assess if the effort is worth it.

  • Do you like these people?

If it’s a no, don’t waste your time. Life is not a dress rehearsal. Seriously. If you have to see these people intermittently, pick and choose the events and only attend the key annual ones. You don’t need to go to every BBQ, baby shower or birthday.

  • Do they need you there?

If your bestie is having a housewarming and feels a little bit nervous about everyone showing up then you know what the answer is. Get up and get dressed.  

  • Have you seen this person/people recently?

If you saw them last weekend you probably don’t need to see them again 7 days later. If you’re not going to see them for another 6 months, make the effort.

  • Is it a wedding?

Make a special effort for weddings. They usually end up being fun with speeches and cake (yasss!) and are usually a once in a lifetime event, especially for the ones getting married. And RSVP on time! Please!

  • Is it a funeral?

Go. Unless this will trigger you further. It is better to help people out when they are grieving than when they are celebrating. Even if you hardly chat with the family on the day and feel awkward, your presence there can mean more than you realise.

  • Are funds too tight?

Saving for that house deposit? Or skint until that next paycheck? You are 100% allowed to say no. Money management is something we don’t talk about enough. Chasing that big financial goal will take some sacrifices along the way, but an arvo at the pub or weekend away can wait.

  • Just don’t feel like it?

If you genuinely feel like once you get there you will have fun, go. However, if your brain is feeling a little tired and a general feeling of malaise sets in, say no. Too often, we want to be “on” all the time and have real FOMO. If you simply don’t feel like it, you are allowed to say no. Just don’t be a dick about it.

And lastly, look after yourself. Stretching yourself thin and trying to please everyone will end up with you pleasing no one. Schedule time with others, but make sure you also schedule time with yourself.