Writer Anne Lamott put it succinctly: “No” is a complete sentence.” The word “No” is such an easy, powerful word, but why is it so hard to say?
For many of us, pleasing our friends, family, co-workers, customers, or supervisors is important, so it’s no surprise that saying ‘No’ often becomes a dilemma. We worry about hurting others. We worry about people being mad at us. We worry about missing opportunities. We worry that we’re burning bridges.
However, there really is a difference between pleasing people and truly helping them. If you say “No” to things that aren’t right for you, it gives you the time to say “Yes” to things that are. Also, it allows the other person to find the right person to truly help them or to learn how to help themselves.
The tricky part is learning to say “No” in a way that helps everyone. Learning to say a neutral “No” (steady, clear, unapologetic and kind) is a terrific skill. A neutral “No” focuses on the business aspect of “No”, rather than the personal, even if you are using it in a personal situation.
1. Listen First
Even if you know before the person has even started speaking what your answer will be, give the other person the respect of really listening to their request. Do not interrupt. Feel your internal response to the situation while your rational mind evaluates the request.
2. Take Some Time to Think
If you really do know what your final response is, don’t delay. However, if you are unsure, and need to think about it or do some research, ask for a little time to think. Allow yourself to weigh the pros and cons, ask some questions, and sleep on it.
3. Be Honest and Brief
Tell the truth of why you are saying “No”, but gently and briefly. You do not need to lie; you are allowed to say “No”. Avoid detailed and exaggerated excuses. A simple, “I’m too busy right now.” Or “That doesn’t pique my interest” will suffice. Only tell the person to ask you again in the future if you truly want them to; not just in an effort to be nice or polite. Saying ‘No’ does not mean you are being rude or offensive.
There’s a whole host of ways that you can say “No” while also helping the other person.
- If you know someone who does have the skills and time, pass on the requestor’s contact information to that person. Always, ask permission before doing so, then follow up with both people later to see how things panned out.
- If you know resources where the other person can find help, inform them. Perhaps you read the perfect book on the exact problem that person is having. Or mabe you went to a terrific class. Share that information, encourage the person to check it out and get back to you with what they thought.
- Perhaps you’ve encountered a handful of people with the same question, passion or issue. Connect them with each other! It can be as simple as making the introductions digitally via email, a Facebook group or a Google Hangout.
5. Stay Firm
Sometimes, the other person won’t show you the respect of taking “No” for an answer. Take a deep breath, stay calm and kind, but also stay firm. If you’ve thought it through, you have no reason to change your stance and have good reasons for saying ‘No’ in the first place. Don’t give the other person false hope. Repeat your initial response and end the conversation if necessary.
Jia Jiang tackles all of the above and so much more in his book Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Become Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection. It’s a helpful read that I highly recommend.
Remember, if you say “No” to what isn’t right for you, you’ll be able to say “Yes” to what is.
What are your strategies for saying ‘No’?