Like many of you, we have just returned from the Chinese New Year holiday. I hope it was a time of renewal for you as it was for me and my family.
Saying no is part of any adult’s professional and personal life, but knowing when or how to say no isn’t always straightforward.
In our work at True Development, we often hear about situations where people feel they should say no but are concerned about the consequences of doing so. A few examples:
● An important customer asks for a heavy discount.
● You are overloaded for the next few weeks and your boss asks you to take on an additional project.
● You are working on an important task when an urgent request for assistance comes in from a colleague.
● A family member asks you for a large cash loan.
● A subordinate asks you to make an exception that is in violation of team standards.
The Options: No, Yes, and…
Let’s consider your options in these situations:
● Say No:
There are brave people among us who have no problem saying no. The problem is that sometimes a direct no is harmful to
the relationship. You may be right to say no, but you have given the other person nothing but a rejection.
● Say Yes:
Many people give in when they should not do so for fear of damaging a relationship. In making such a choice, they are hurting
themselves and possibly other people they care about. Such behavior may be viewed as a character flaw by others. Resentment
may take root when you are unable to keep all of your commitments or do not properly balance competing interests. Saying yes
to the wrong thing can be even more damaging than saying no.
● Make an Excuse:
Making an excuse almost always involves deception at some level. It harms personal credibility.
Say “I’d really like to, but I can’t,” then give your reasons. To a person committed to getting a yes, you have just invited a
continued effort to persuade you to give in, because for all of your reasons you have still given them nothing.
Say “Let me get back to you on that” and hope the person forgets about the request. Sometimes we get lucky and we never hear
from the requester again. And sometimes the requester resents you for not ever getting back to them.
None of the choices are ideal.
The Positive No
William Ury, a noted negotiation expert and author of Getting to Yes and Getting Past No, suggests a better way: When your own interests AND the relationship with the requester are both important, use a Positive No. The Positive No has a three part structure:
First, explain why you cannot grant the request as it is given. There is a reason why you have to say no. Be honest about what it is.
Second, deliver a polite but direct no.
Third, give an alternative proposal.
For example, if your colleague asks you to stay late today and help prepare a presentation he must deliver tomorrow morning but you have dinner plans, don’t just say no. Say “I have dinner plans with my family, so I cannot stay late tonight. What I can do is send you is the slides I used for a similar presentation so you can save some time. If you need my help with parts of it later on, I can help you after I put my daughter to bed at 9pm.”
You have protected your own interests and those of your family but have also shown care for your colleague.
What you give as an alternative can be adjusted depending on the importance of the relationship and your ability to help.