Maybe it’s easy for you. In which case, a lot of people would like to know your secret. Because for a lot of us, saying “No” is a huge challenge.
So why not say “Yes”?
We can’t agree to everything—we only have so much time, energy, or money. And when you say “Yes” to one thing, you’re saying “No” to everything else.
Whether in our business or our personal life, inevitably, we prioritize possible ways to use our resources. And we decide, perhaps reluctantly, to turn down some requests, offers, or invitations.
End of discussion? Not exactly.
What’s so tough about N-O?
When it comes to saying “No,” degree of difficulty relates to a couple of things. How am I connected to the person who wants something from me? And, how up-close and personal is their request?
Say an organization I never heard of sends me a generic fundraising brochure in the mail. Easy to toss it in the trash without a second thought.
Then my next-door neighbor’s daughter rings my doorbell and asks me to buy wrapping paper/greeting cards/cookies. Her school/team/troop is raising money to keep the doors open. Will I turn down this earnest young lady? Not as likely.
I care about the kid, maybe the cause. And, it matters to me what she and her parents think about me. This is where saying “No” gets tricky. We’re loathe to disappoint people, especially people we care about. We don’t want to hurt their feelings.
And the biggest barrier to saying “No” is—we want them to like us.
So instead of “No” …
We try to dodge disappointing people.
- You stall, hedge, string them along. “I’ll think about it.” “Let me check with my spouse.” “I don’t have my calendar handy.” It doesn’t give them what they want, but it implies they might get it in the end, so they won’t be mad at you.
- You delay the decision. Let their email languish in your inbox. Put off returning their call. Or tell them you need to think about it. So they won’t be mad at you.
- There’s always straight-out avoidance. Haven’t you checked Caller ID and decided not to answer? Why? So they won’t be mad at you. (Notice the pattern here?)
- Deflection’s a favorite. Blaming a negative response on the boss, the wife, or the carpool. They might be mad, but it won’t be at you.
- When all else fails, there’s deception. “I can’t come watch the video of your child’s graduation.” Because… “I’ll be out of town.” “My car’s in the shop.” “I have a command appearance at my mom’s house.” How can they be mad at you for a vacation, a broken car or a demanding mother?
Skip the excuses.
They don’t work anyway. No matter what you give as a reason for turning down their “ask,” it invites debate.
They could reasonably say something like: “I’ll wait while you get your calendar.” “We’ll postpone it until you can come.” “Bring your mother with you!”
Where does that leave you—making up another excuse?
A simple, unadulterated “no, thank you” is way more effective. It doesn’t open the door for their yeah-but response.
- “I won’t be able to do that.”
- “No, I can’t be there.”
- “That’s not something I can handle for you.”
Then repeat, as necessary. No matter what they say, don’t come back with an excuse. Just stick with your initial response, slightly softened if you like.
- “I’m sorry. I won’t be able to do that.”
- “I’m sure it’ll be a great event. I just can’t be there.”
- “I know how important this is to you and it’s not something I can handle for you.”
You may have to say it a third time, even a fourth. Some people don’t easily take “No” for an answer. Stick with your no-excuses position. Adding something new just creates an opening for them to try talking you into a different decision.
Stay in your own map of the world.
So now you have a handle on what to say when you’re, um, declining an opportunity. How you say it makes a difference too.
Stay in touch with your physical space.
If you’re on the phone or talking face-to-face, sit up straight. Keep both feet flat on the floor and your seat squarely in the chair, with your spine erect, and your head straight up and down. This is known as Self Position.
In Self Position, I see, hear and feel from my own perspective. I know what I want, I can be assertive and clear about my limits.
By contrast, you’re in Other Position if you lean toward the person, curve your body, or tilt your head. That’s useful when you want to see things from their point of view. It undermines you, though, when you’re trying not to get sucked in to doing something you don’t want to do.
You may have some thoughts about how to say “No.” Or about that time you said “Yes” when you shouldn’t have.
Post a comment below to share your experience.
Thanks to my one-time radio colleague Turi Ryder, author of the forthcoming book “She Said What?” Turi suggested an article about saying “no.” It’s always good to open the Request Line.
Another fine article Catherine.
“No” has always been difficult for me. I appreciate the balance provided by the rude telemarketers and blatant scam artists… it’s much easier to decline their “super special offers.”
Great tip to use “self body language” in face to face situations to underscore a no response. I’ll remember that next the situation comes up.
Love this article! Love the body language piece especially! People believe your body language over your words if they don’t match, and I never thought about that in this context!
The Perceptual Positions are fascinating, Ellen. You’re right that our body language can override our words. I was fascinated when I first learned that it also shapes how we process information.
In my first NLP class, the instructors demonstrated the three positions without explaining them, and then had us group ourselves according to which one felt most like “home.” You won’t be surprised, I’m guessing, to hear that Self is most natural for me. Or that most of the people in that group were men. The Other group–overwhelmingly women. There’s a Third Position, Observer–it was pretty evenly split. Both men and women leaning back, arms folded across the chest, pulling themselves out of the action. Observer feels foreign to me, but I use it on purpose sometimes to shift my perspective.
Thanks, Jared! Staying in Self Position makes a huge difference. It not only communicates something about my willingness to bend, so to speak. It also shapes the way I take in information, keeping my own situation front and center. We shift in and out of the Perceptual Positions all the time, mostly unconsciously. But if we pay attention, we can use them to strengthen our message. Or ourselves.
Thank you for your tips on how to say “No”. I’m the kind of person who wants to please everyone so I often say Yes when I really want to say No. I also make excuses which only prolongs the unpleasant interaction. This leads to no satisfaction for either party. I’ll try your suggestions of the Self Position to keep me aware of what I really want to do, not what I think others want from me.
I enjoy all your articles and appreciate your constructive and useful suggestions.
It’s the excuses that get us into trouble, isn’t it, Sharyn? A committed asker will have a response for every excuse. That’s why we’re better off not going down that road. I have a story about that – I would have included it in this article, but it was getting pretty long. I’m glad you’re finding the articles useful!
Oh, I am the king of trouble with this “issue” 😀
I often hear my self-saying “no problem” and thinking how / when can I find the time for this now.
Thanks for the great ideas will put to work immediately
That doesn’t surprise me, Jacques – because you’re such a nice guy! That’s one of the downsides to being nice. It’s easy to over-commit ourselves in our quest to make people happy.
One thing I notice for myself. I actually sound nicer if I say “no” in the first place. If I wait until I feel pressured and badgered and harassed, when I finally do say “no” … it’s likely to be a crankier “no.”
Maybe you can turn them down from the get-go and think of it as being your nice-guy self.
Enjoyed the article and totally agree that people need to say no more often.
Saying no gets easier the more you say it. I usually begin with something nice “I’m honored to be asked” or some variation thereof – and then continue, “but no thank you”.
“Thank you for the invitation, but I have to say no.”
“Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m not available.”
“I’m honored that you thought of me but I have other plans.”
And when I’m the one doing the asking, I hate to hear excuses too – such a waste of time. Sometimes I even say, “It’s ok to say no” or “Just tell me if you can’t.” But it’s rude to be dangled indefinitely.
It’s a good point, Gail … all the fumbling we sometimes do on our way to “No” is no more fun for the person on the receiving end than it is for us. Better to just say it, straight out. Your examples are good ones.
Great timing. I got to use this tonight to turn down a sales pitch from a financial adviser. A polite clear “no” as you suggested put a quick end to the conversation without room for negotiating. It also felt honest and empowering.
It IS empowering when we make ourselves clear without hedging or apologizing or blathering, Greg. My sense is it gets easier with practice. Sales pitches are a good place to start; the emotional stakes aren’t that high. Unless the financial advisor is also your brother-in-law. 😉