How to Say No

This should be the shortest post in the history of blogging. I mean if you want to say no then just say it. Nothing could be easier than that. 

Except for most of us, it’s anything but easy. For a whole lot of us saying no requires a lengthy dissertation on all the other things we have going on in our lives that prevent us from saying  yes. We say no with such remorse that you’d think saying no is a sin against humanity. 

That leads many of us to say yes when the answer clearly needs to be no. We add stress to our lives that doesn’t need to be there. We “over commit” to others at the expense of our own enjoyment and mental health. We allow other people to make their poor choices our problem when we say yes when the answer needs to be no. 

Saying “no” effectively and respectfully is a vital skill in both personal and professional situations. So for those of you who suffer from chronic “yesness” here’s a guide on how to say no in a constructive and polite manner.

1. Acknowledge the request: Begin by acknowledging the person’s request or proposal. This shows that you’ve understood what they’re asking and that you’re taking their needs into consideration.

2. Express appreciation: Show gratitude for their consideration or for thinking of you. This helps maintain a positive tone and demonstrates that you value the relationship.

3. Be clear and concise: State your decision in a straightforward and clear manner. Avoid ambiguity or vagueness that might lead to misunderstandings.

4. Provide a reason (if necessary): If appropriate and if you’re comfortable, provide a brief and honest reason for your decision. This can help the person understand your perspective and minimize potential disappointment. But also understand, in many instances “No” is a complete sentence and no explanation is required. If that seems rude or inconsiderate you may be suffering from severe “yesness.”

5. Offer an alternative (if possible): If you’re declining a request that involves your time or resources, try to offer an alternative solution or suggest another way you might be able to help in the future.

6. Use polite language: Choose your words carefully to ensure your response comes across as polite and respectful. Avoid being overly blunt or negative in your wording. But again, in some instances a basic “No” is neither overly blunt or negative…it is simply No. 

7. Set boundaries: If saying no is about setting personal or professional boundaries, communicate your limits in a firm yet respectful manner. Emphasize the importance of respecting each other’s boundaries.

8. Practice active listening: After delivering your response, take the time to actively listen to the other person’s reaction. This shows that you genuinely care about their feelings and perspective.

9. Stay firm but empathetic: If the person persists or seems disappointed, stay firm in your decision while showing empathy for their feelings. Reiterate your reasons if necessary, and personally, I’m learning it’s rarely necessary.

10. Maintain open communication: Ensure the lines of communication remain open for future interactions. Reassure the person that your decision in this instance does not reflect a lack of interest or commitment to the relationship.
Example: “Thank you so much for thinking of me for this opportunity. I truly appreciate your consideration. However, due to my current commitments, I won’t be able to help with this. I hope you understand. If there’s another way I can help in the future, please let me know.”

Saying No is about asserting yourself while respecting the needs and feelings of others. It’s about protecting one of your most valuable assets, your time. It’s about every now and then putting your own priorities before someone else’s. That doesn’t make you a poor human being, it makes you a healthy one.

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5 thoughts on “How to Say No

  1. In my experience, people respond really, really poorly to “No.” It’s a real effort to build the intestinal fortitude to stand up to forceful personalities. It’s also a critical skill for managers/execs. Good advice you’ve shared here.

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