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The Introvert’s Guide to Saying No

June 11, 2020

(image via wikimedia)

It’s tough to say no to people if you’re polite or an introvert.  Maybe this doesn’t only apply to polite people or quiet people or introverts.  Maybe saying no is tough for everybody.

I started thinking about this topic recently when I refused to make a small donation to a children’s fund and my daughter looked horrified.  I don’t even remember which children’s fund it was.  It’s probably a scam.  I was just paying for groceries, and after I’d swiped my card, the screen requested two extra dollars .  I stared blankly, and the clerk asked if I wanted to donate to the charity.  I said no without any thought until I saw my daughter’s facial expressions.

“You were rude,” my daughter said, as we left the store.

It’s tough to explain how to say no without making it sound mean.  My wife and I work hard, and it seems like more and more people are asking for money or other stuff (and it’s going to get worse).  We live in a city with a lot of panhandlers.   If I said yes to everybody who asked, there wouldn’t be much left.  And it’s important for my daughter to know it’s okay to say no.

“Just say no,” gets made fun of a lot.  Back in the 1980s, it was seen as an oversimplified solution to a complicated drug use problem.  To be fair, it was a lot better than “This is your brain on drugs.  Any questions?”  And it was better than “I learned it from you!”  Anybody can say no.  Not everybody can scramble eggs and blame their parents.  But “Just say no” gets a lot of grief.  It doesn’t get as much flak as “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.”  But it’s right up there.

“Just say no” is great when it’s not politicized.  If somebody asks you for something and you don’t want to give it him/her, just say no.  There’s nothing wrong with saying no.  Here are a few steps:

1.   Have a strong neutral face.

I was taught to smile a lot and be pleasant when I was a kid, and unfortunately people take that as a sign to use against you.  If you’re too approachable, some people will think you’re weak.  Work on having a strong stoic blank face.  It doesn’t have to be mean.  Look in the mirror if you have to and practice being expressionless.  This is great prevention.  Never being asked in the first place is better than saying no.

2.  Recognize and resist shame tactics

Manipulators use shame tactics to get what they want because they know you have compassion.  It’s called “weaponized empathy,” where people use your own compassion against you.  Shame tactics don’t work if you have no empathy, and a bunch of manipulators know about empathy but don’t have it themselves.  Shame doesn’t work once you recognize the tactic, even if you have empathy or compassion.

Anytime guilt is involved, it’s a scam.  If it’s “for the children,” it’s a scam.  If they say “If we can save just one life…” it’s a scam.

And if a person tries to guilt trip you into saying yes, then they probably don’t deserve your help anyway.  I should know.  That stuff used to work on me, but now it doesn’t. I don’t like guilt trips because the person asking for help shouldn’t make demands.

3. Set the rules

The person doing the favor sets the rules.  You don’t have to be a dick about It, but it’s important to remember.  I decide how much money I give (because I know I’m never getting it back).  I  I decide what time I pick you up.

If I’m helping out, I want to see results.  If you say it’s “for the children,” I don’t want to find out you’re flying private jets to Epstein Island.  You want to save “just one life”?  I want to save a bunch of lives for generations upon generation to come. I set the “terms and conditions.”  I’ll be nice about it, but don’t treat me like a sucker either.

4.  Have a Go-To phrase

My favorite rejection phrase is “No, I can’t right now.”  That’s all anybody needs.  The requester doesn’t deserve an explanation, especially if he/she asks for one.  If a demander is pesky/rude and asks “Why not?” (which has happened), a good response is “I have a good reason, but I’m not explaining it.”  That’s it.  That’s more than most people deserve.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I live in a city filled with panhandlers, and I know some introverts or quiet people ignore them or pretend they’re not there, but I’d rather acknowledge a person and say ‘I can’t right now.”  That’s usually it.  Every once in a while I have to repeat myself, but I say it and keep walking.

5. (Optional):  Say yes every once in a while.

You don’t have to say yes if you don’t want to.  I occasionally do just to show my daughter that I will.  I also encourage her to look up charities that are actually reliable.  But I want her to have the ability to say no.  Otherwise, people will take advantage of her.

I’m glad my daughter is compassionate, and I’m glad she’s polite (except to my wife and me), but I told her that it’s okay to say no.  She doesn’t even have to be polite about it.  Polite people have no responsibility to be polite when saying no.  I try to be polite, but that’s just how I was taught.  You can pretty much say no any way you want to.  And if they guilt-trip you, then you can say “Get lost, you leech!”

I don’t insult people very often, but it’s in my arsenal when I need it.


As my daughter and I exited the plaza, we saw a collection stand for children with very serious afflictions.  It had the coin slots and the funnel so you could watch the coins roll like a cyclone to the bottom of the canister.  It was mesmerizing.  And it was (supposedly) to help children with very serious afflictions.  If there’s any group that I’ll donate money to, it’s an organization that helps children who have very serious afflictions.

Plus, the collection stand had a coin funnel contraption.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  I don’t care who I’m donating to if there’s a coin spiral contraption.  My money could be going to hate groups or international terrorists or a politician, and I wouldn’t care.  I could stare at the coins spiraling all day long.  When we had given up all our change, my daughter and I ran back to the car, cleaned coins out of all the compartments, and ran back to the store to feed the coin spiral.  And it was all for the children (I hope).

Maybe I’ll buy my own coin spiral and start asking other people for money.  Who can say no to the coin funnel?


What do you think?  What is your policy for saying yes or no to people who ask for money (or help)?  Is there a better way to ask for money than a coin funnel?  If so, what is it?

From → Pop culture

  1. The thing about this is though, there can be people who are a tad pushy, and that’s when things can get a little rough. Like:

    “I’m sorry I can’t.”

    “Why? You said you weren’t doing anything, right?”

    “Yeah, but no.”

    “C’mon. Just one time is all I’m asking.”

    “Okay. Sorry. How bout no?”

    “You suck.”

  2. Oh dear, oh dear, that is not a problem for me. I was born in Russia and we know how NOT to smile 😂

  3. We have no coin spirals in Texas. I know not of what you speak. Perhaps because it’s 110 degrees and coins are hot. BTW, I’m getting a very Andy Rooney vibe from you today.

    • Andy Rooney? That guy was old when I was a kid… and when I used to watch 60 Minutes… and when I believed everything that was on the news…

      • Yes, I am asking you to draw upon the vast recesses of your mind to go way way back.

  4. I have struggled for years with “the N-word.” Because of my inability to say anything but yes, I ended up spending 13 years as a soccer mom/coach/ref (even acting as a referee after our daughter “aged out”), volunteered a the animal shelter, donated time for lego and speech tournaments and somehow ended up as a board member for a local non-profit. Fortunately I never go anywhere alone any more, and my friends and family members say n..n…n…. sigh. They speak up on my behalf. Fountains and wishing wells are excellent coin collectors as well

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