8 Thoughtful Ways to Let Someone Down Without Sacrificing Your Needs

Because it's completely okay to just say "no."

As much as we all wish we never had to let someone down, at some point in your life, it’s inevitable. But that doesn’t mean you have to be harsh about it. Even if someone has done you wrong, hurt your feelings, or broke your heart, there are kind, empathetic ways of going about backing out of a situation. Not sure what they are? Ahead, with the help of experts, discover 10 thoughtful and easy steps to let someone down or reject them painlessly.

How to let someone down easy:

1. Start by owning your truth.

The best way to go into a situation of letting someone down is to fully understand why it is you feel compelled to do so. “Understand what your motivation is for having this conversation and get okay with whatever it is,” life coach Rachel Kove, the founder and co-CEO of Transformational Solutions, tells HelloGiggles. Understanding the why will allow you to truly comprehend why you’re taking this step in the first place.

2. Share your truth with the other person.

If you don’t want to do something—whether it’s being in a relationship or a friendship, going to a family outing, or completing a work project—don’t lie about why you don’t want to show up. No matter if it’s a one-off decision or something that has a long-term effect, being honest about why you don’t want to partake is crucial for how you decide to end things.

3. Be straightforward from the beginning.

So often—in both work and personal scenarios—people ask for time to think about X, Y, and Z. While some scenarios do, indeed, require extra thought, more often it seems as though putting the conversation or event off is just a means for avoidance. “Letting someone down can be stressful and difficult but the last thing you want is to be ambiguous,” explains licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Carolina Pataky, of the Love Discovery Institute. “Sometimes we try to let someone down by saying, ‘I’m really slammed this week, but I’ll let you know when my schedule frees up a bit.’ You’re giving this person false hope that you’re interested. Don’t leave anyone wondering what your intentions or wants are. It’ll only create stress for them and for you.”

4. Always start positive.

Even if you know you’re about to let someone down—and especially if—it helps to be positive to lessen the blow. “Always start your decline with a [statement that expresses gratitude],” Dr. Pataky suggests. “You don’t want to be rude or disrespectful and these statements can help ease the blow. This shows that you are still appreciating the person while being authentic to your feelings.”

how to let someone down easy

5. Remember that tone is everything.

We can’t stress this enough: It’s not what you say but how you say it—and, yes, that goes for texting, too. So, no matter what you’re saying or texting, make sure that your tone is compassionate if you genuinely want to make the process easier for the other person. “Be authentic to yourself and what you want,” says Dr. Pataky. “You don’t want to confuse or eventually ‘ghost’ them. You want to be polite but very clear.”

6. Do not identify with their feelings.

Letting someone down easy doesn’t mean you have to make it worse for yourself. You can be compassionate and empathetic while stating your boundaries without having to take their disappointing feelings about your needs to heart. “Do not make yourself the ‘bad guy’ [just to appease them],” Kove says. Sometimes people will become hurt when you state a want or need, and while it might cause uncomfortable feelings doesn’t mean you should ignore how you feel.

7. Let go of the outcome.

When people become disappointed, their opinions of you may change. This is another thing to keep in mind but not to be consumed by. “Do not become attached to what this person thinks of you,” Kove says. “When you are done with the conversation, acknowledge the challenge and be proud of yourself.” Remember: Stating boundaries and letting someone down isn’t easy, but it’s important to understand that their disappointment doesn’t indicate that you’re wrong.

8. Don’t say you’re sorry.

This one’s tricky, but it’s necessary. You can be sorry that they’re hurting or upset based on your feelings to withdraw, but ultimately, Dr. Pataky says that being uninterested in someone’s request and letting them down is nothing to be sorry for. “It may feel like saying sorry is the right and polite thing to do, but it isn’t,” she says. “It can add a layer of confusion to the recipient. They may wonder why you’re saying sorry and take it personally. It can also be uncomfortable for the recipient as the common response to ‘I’m sorry’ is ‘It’s okay.’ It might not be okay for them and that’s okay, too. That’s something they need time to work on in their own time.”