The Positive ‘No!’

We often find ourselves in situations where we want to refuse someone and yet are unable to do so without fear of offending the other person or risking the relationship. We over commit ourselves and then feel resentment because we are overextended, or we feel regret for not helping others out when they ask.

Saying ‘Yes’ when we actually want to say ‘No’ not only harms our health but also reflects poorly on our work, image and relationships. Saying ‘yes’ to an unprofitable sale or an overly demanding customer just so that we are perceived as ‘nice’ is also poor business sense. We say ‘yes’ because of our desire to please them. But when we eventually can’t fulfill our commitment, we let them down and feel guilty.

If someone has asked you to do something and you honestly cannot, it is best to say so. Of course, depending on whose offer you are declining, different situations often require a different ‘no’, but whatever the scenario here are my top 10 guidelines for saying ‘no’ when you just ‘have to’:

  1. Saying ‘no’ DOES NOT IMPLY making the other person feel offended, unwelcome, taken for granted, uncomfortable or even hurt.
  2. Keep facial expressions calm and pleasant.
  3. Avoid sarcasm or humor when declining; it can cause misinterpretation or misunderstanding.
  4. Make sure your reasons to refuse are justified.
  5. Be polite, clear and brief. Lengthy explanations or excuses allow scope for debate, and may be used to squeeze in a “yes” from you.
  6. It is not always necessary to apologize for not being able to do something. However, it is important to acknowledge any feelings the other may have about your refusal. Try saying something like, “I know this will be disappointing for you, but I won’t be able to attend this time.”
  7. Ensure your tone is well modulated, sincere, respectful, and conversational.
  8. If it is something to do with unreasonable timelines perhaps then you could say, “I don’t know how to do this within the constraints we have now. Could you please help me to adjust some priorities?”, or, “I could do this. It would require me to delay the reports I’m working on by 3 days, but I could do this.” Another way is to determine whether there is room for negotiation. For instance, “I can’t do this task today. But I could deal with this on Wednesday if that’s acceptable.”
  9. Avoid feeling guilty. There is nothing wrong with standing up for yourself as long as it is genuine and not at the expense of others.
  10. If saying ‘no’ is simply unavoidable, tell the person that you agree to their request this time but would like the opportunity to plan better for the next time.

Saying ‘no’ honestly, and feeling good about it starts from within you. It is also instrumental in building strong working relationships by encouraging compromise and win-win situations. However, don’t be a person who never says ‘yes’ and who is considered argumentative or negative by others. Now that is a topic for another blog.