Discover: Thanks (but no)


How many times per day do you say, “thank you?” Gratitude practices, in which we cultivate thankfulness and appreciation for the good that comes our way that we don’t always think of, are a good, valuable, and beneficial practice! Gratitude practices are those that offer intentional thanks not only for the big things, such as the obvious acts of good, of kindness, and generosity and grace that we are offered to and for us on occasion, but also for the things we take for granted, such as food, clothing, for clean water, for good friends and colleagues, and for a clear mind that can appreciate the very nature of goodness itself.

There is “thanks!” There is also “Thanks, but no.”

Gratitude can exist without accepting what is offered, and this can be considered accepting a gift to yourself. What is a generous opportunity offered by some, can feel neutral, or even burdensome to whom it is being offered. In the holiday season where so many thanks and gifts are given, it can be good to remember that we do still reserve the right to say, “thanks, but no,” and still maintain the spirit and conveyance of gratitude for what is offered. It’s a time to remember that YOU can be grateful, yet still acknowledge and be grateful for your own preferences. This holiday season, to thine own self be true!

For any “no” saying practice, there are a minimum of two steps that one must take to effectively, and actually, do it. First, one must realize that the answer to the request or offering that was made to you is, “no!” That seems like an easy thing to do, but how often do we say “yes” to things that we really don’t want, and immediately regret saying “yes” afterwards? For many of us, this happens all the time, and it does so because many people don’t think that they can say no! The second part of saying no is the actual crafting of the “no” response. This can be something that improves with practice, and the trick here is to articulate your “no” 1) clearly, 2) honestly, and 3) graciously. Considering this two stepped process, the exercises we have for you at this stop is to practice articulating your no! For this, we’ve developed the following framework which you may find helpful. We call it the R4 Method of Saying No.

Restate -> Refuse -> Reframe -> Reaffirm

Restate (The Reflection)

We begin by restating the request or question. This is done in the spirit of observation, without judgment or bias. We do this for three reasons:

  • To confirm with the other person that the request or ask was heard;
  • To confirm the accuracy of the request with the other person; and
  • To engage in a self-check on what it is that we’re feeling as the request is stated and personalized.

Guiding Question – Will I regret saying yes to this immediately after I do? If the answer is “yes,” it’s a no!

Refuse (The Actual “No”)

When we accept or determine that the answer is “No,” how might we convey that in a way that is kind to both participants – the one offering the thing, and you as well? Clear, unambiguous options for how to communicate your “no” might include the following:

  • “I personally cannot do that.”
  • “That is not something I’m able to do.”
  • “That won’t / doesn’t work for me.”

Reframe (The “But”)

After conveying clearly that you are unable to personally fulfill the request, it’s important to let the other person know that you do understand that what they are asking for is important to them. A “no” can be challenging to hear, and sometimes it can negatively disrupt the expectations and feelings of the other person. After all, if the request wasn’t important to them in some way, they wouldn’t be asking! You might try the following phrases to get started on what this looks like for you.

  • “But I understand that it’s important to you that it gets done.”
  • But I know that this is something that you need.”
  • But I do empathize with the challenging situation that you are in.”

Reaffirm (The “And”)

Whereas we are not all here to say yes to everything, the responsibilities of our positions ask us to help in the ways that we can, with who we are, and with the knowledge and resources that we have available to us. In this light, we can reaffirm our role and position with the person making the request while also reaffirming their autonomy. We can do this using the following strategies:

  • “,… and I’m willing to talk about strategies.”
  • “,… and I’m happy to help you decide on what else you might be able to do.”
  • “,… and I’m able to introduce you to the person who can help you with this.”
  • “,… and I’m available on Monday to show you how to navigate that process.”

Feel free to use this R4 framework when crafting your no’s to the following situations!


  • Boundary with a Supervisor

You’ve been working with your supervisor closely for several months. Recently, you’ve noticed a change in the supervisor’s demeanor. Some behaviors reflect those that you were taught are rude. At times, the tone used in conversation is something you would describe as inappropriate. You requested assistance navigating a complex, and new to you, form. Your supervisor responds to your request with a short email reply: “I can’t be bothered with this right now; I’m counting on you to figure it out while I [insert import work task here].”

Using the R4 Framework, craft an email reply that you might send to your supervisor that will allow you to successfully perform your work responsibilities related to this form.

  • Boundary with a Student

You’ve been working with a student for several months. You’re noticing that the student is navigating many challenges and has shared with you a number of struggles related to anxiety. In a recent conversation, the student blamed you for a challenge that had emerged and told you that you let them down and were the only person they can rely on. You wake up on Saturday morning to see two email messages from the student. The first, sent at 11 pm the prior evening asks a relatively simple question, but the second, sent at 4 am says, “See – you said you were there for me and now you’re not replying!”

Using the R4 Framework, craft an email reply that you might send to your student that will allow you to successfully navigate this relationship with your student.

  • Boundary with a Colleague

You’ve been working with a colleague for several years. You have a strong working relationship and value your collaboration. Lately, however, the colleague has been calling you several times a week during work hours to talk through the challenging cases navigated that day. At the end of the call, your colleague always thanks you and tells you how much you improve the workplace because of your ability to listen and care for others. Yesterday, after such a call, you closed out your work day exhausted, unsatisfied with what you accomplished, and found yourself impatient with your loved ones at home. As soon as you log into email today, you receive a message from the same colleague. It asks you to call as soon as you see the message.

Using the R4 Framework, craft an email reply that you might send to your student that will allow you to successfully navigate this relationship with your student.

  • Serving on a New Committee

Your supervisor, manager, or dean has asked you to serve on a committee. Although you would like to be helpful and supportive to your employer, you know the constraints that you already have on your time and energy, and you know that you are unable to take this on without compromising another of your job responsibilities.

Using the R4 Framework, craft an email reply that you might send to your supervisor that will allow you to successfully respond to this request.

  • Stepping Down from Current Committee

For years, you have served on a campus or college committee that meets on a regular basis, and is a committee that is essential to the ongoing operations of the college. However, you have just been asked to serve on another committee that is nearer and dearer to your heart, and you need to break it to the chair of the current committee that you are stepping down to serve on this other task.

Using the R4 Framework, craft an email reply that you might send to your current committee chair that will allow you to successfully step down from this committee.


Which Thanks (but no) situation did you attempt?