Three Rules for Saying ‘No’ During the Holidays

I know some of you enjoy holidays, love parties, and adore large crowds of celebrating friends. But some of you, like me, feel overwhelmed by the social obligations that come with the festive season. Can you say no to great grandma’s annual turkey bash that everyone has gone to since the dawn of time? And if so, how do you say it?

Newly returned to my ‘home’ city after some years in another city, I have been invited to many events this December. Events I wanted to go to – sort of. With a coming baby, a new job, and lots of family expectations I am also struggling with the sheer number of opportunities for social engagement.

Based on my own experience I would propose that saying ‘no’ respectfully and judiciously can increase your enjoyment of the holidays – even for you readers who are extroverted. Here is what I am doing:

Rule Number 1

First, if you plan to say ‘no’ to an event, you need to have some criteria for when you will say yes.

Before I say ‘yes’ to an event I do a quick, personal assessment of my own criteria:

  1. Will I be able to connect meaningfully with individuals at this event?
  2. Will I see the same people at other events?
  3. If I think about this event in a month, will I regret not going?

If I don’t think I’ll be able to connect deeply with people, and if I’ll see the same people at other events, and it won’t seem significant in retrospect, I probably won’t go. Next year my criteria might be different.

Incidentally, once I started setting boundaries around my time this December I felt healthier and more energetic for those events I did decide to go to.

Rule Number 2

Secondly, If you are going to say ‘no’ it helps to focus on what you believe to be true. Assertive communication arises from the following beliefs:

  1. You are responsible for your choices;
  2. You will judge your actions, and you can choose whether to accept the judgement of others;
  3. You are not responsible for other people’s problems, nor are they responsible for yours;
  4. You have the right to simply say ‘no’.

When you believe these things to be true, it will help you face the possible disappointment someone experiences when you do say no.

Rule Number 3

Make your ‘no’ about the event, not the relationship. When you say ‘no’ others may feel disappointed or even feel that you are rejecting them. Here is a simple way to say ‘no’ without rejecting the person:

  1. Thank them for the invitation
  2. Say that you are not able to attend this year
  3. Affirm that you care about them and that you would hope to spend time with them on another occasion.

Here is how my ‘no’ might sound:

“Thank you for the invitation great-grandma. I am not going to be able to come this year. I do really appreciate spending time with you and am hoping you and I can get together sometime in January.”

Follow these three rules, and I believe you will be off to a great start in making your holiday engagements meaningful.

To learn more, consider viewing our webinar on Assertive Communication. Find details here:

I am interested in hearing from you. What would be your criteria for saying ‘yes’? When would you say ‘no’?

For more FREE RESOURCES on this topic and others, visit our free resources page.

Mona Neufeld
ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance

To receive notification of a new blog posting, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

© ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance (
Interested in using the content of this blog? Learn more here.

Share this:
Keep up to date with ACHIEVE

Receive a free Conflict Resolution Skills E-Manual!
Sign me up to receive info on: