13 Things To Say When You Don't Know What To Say


I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read a parenting article, or a partnering article, or a MAKE YOURSELF BETTER article – where I nodded happily through points A B and C…and at the end of the article stopped short, thinking ….but wait WHAT? You’re done, but what do I SAY? What words do I actually use to communicate those beautiful and nuanced points.

So let's put this in the #whattosay category. As always, this is just a humble offering. Just one pebble in the ocean of hope for understanding. May it inspire your own continued growth and wisdom.

This year, I’m working on speaking up when something is happening that’s not consistent with my values. Here’s a few examples that strike me mute, from simple to complex:

  • Someone asks me to hang out and I really don’t want to

  • Someone asks for help when I know that I need rest/self care/comfort before I can offer more to anyone else beside myself

  • Someone says something racist, sexist, biased, or not compassionate

I was really inspired by Aja Hammerly's recent blog post about some phrases that work for her. She says

I have a handful of “magic” phrases that have made my professional career easier. Things like “you are not your code” and my preferred way to say no: “that doesn’t work for me.” These are tools in my interpersonal skills toolbox. I find myself uttering phrases like, “right or effective, choose one” at least once a week. This week I realized I had another magic phrase, “we don’t do that here.”

Here’s a few other things I’ve been trying lately:

Just Say No...except more words

(extra phrases in parentheses for when it feel authentic and I want to maintain/promote the relationship)

  • That’s not going to work for me. (I really value our friendship and wish I could help.)
  • Darn, I’m booked. (Will you keep me in mind for the future?)
  • Can’t make it. (Thanks for thinking of me.)
  • That won’t work for me. (Are there other ways I can help?)
  • We don’t do that here.

DELAY to give myself time to craft a thoughtful, effective, or compassionate response

  • Let me check my schedule.
  • I‘ve been really overbooking myself lately, so I have a new ‘wait 24 hours’ policy – I’ll get back to you tomorrow about that. Thanks for the invite.
  • Can we talk about this at a different time?
  • Hmm, I need to pause, let’s wait on that.


Here I'm trying to remind myself of why I’m doing something that makes me uncomfortable.

  • I’m trying to mindfully hold some space for myself this week. Can we circle back later?
  • We don’t do that here. (I just love this one, I'm saying it twice.)
  • To be my best self here (at work), I know I need to have time where I’m fully away. That’s why I don’t access work email or phone messages on weekends.
  • Can we go somewhere private to talk about this?

By Kerry Makin-Byrd, PhD