Saying "No" With Tact and Skill


Have you ever found yourself facing a person who needs you to volunteer when you do not want to; yet you find yourself agreeing, and later kick yourself for doing so? This is probably not the first time it has happened, either. Saying "no" to others who ask for your help, information or resources is often difficult. Saying "no" may conflict with your genuine desire to help and be viewed as a team player. You may worry that a refusal will make you sound unfriendly; however, saying "no" is one of the things you must do to honor your prior commitments and manage your time better.

Keep in mind that saying "yes" to everyone else results in saying "no" to your own priorities. "No" is not synonymous with being rude, unfriendly, or nasty. It simply means that at this time you will not be able to accommodate the request. In order to refuse, you must resist the tendency to acquiesce automatically; give yourself time to evaluate your energy and ability to accommodate a particular request; and decide whether you truly want to participate. This applies to situations that are truly volunteer, and not to a mandatory job assignment couched as a request.

Getting Started

Explore your motives. Do you have a high need to feel useful? Many people encourage others to ask them for help. Being constantly called upon is a real ego boost. The down side is that your desire to be needed can be taken advantage of by others who know that they can always count on you.

Be civil, be polite and be understanding, but say "no." Help others find alternative ways to solve their problems. Search for a way to be useful without doing the entire project. Offer referrals or suggestions about how they may handle the situation. Encourage them to come to you if there are problems for which there are no other solutions, but also encourage their self-reliance.

Practice saying "no" in situations that do not have a lot of emotional charge to them. Once comfortable, build up to saying "no" to the things that have more emotional impact. You will become more confident and self-assertive as you practice.

Do not hesitate when you wish to decline. Say "no" right away before your ambivalence betrays you. Although people may try to apply pressure, be firm. This is your right, particularly when people are asking you to volunteer your time. Remember that guilt is not fatal. You will become more comfortable and feel less guilty with practice.

Way to Say "No"

Option 1

Allow someone else to say no for you. When a request comes in, check your availability. If you cannot accommodate the request, have an assistant or a colleague call back, explaining that you have looked and that your schedule is tight for the next week. You will not be able to help this time. Be sure to thank the requester for thinking of you.

Option 2

Use your schedule to say no. When a request comes in, open your calendar immediately. Look at the week in question. Consider your existing commitments and those inevitable unplanned situations that are likely to arise. If your schedule is too full, say no immediately, explaining that you have prior commitments and thank the requester.

Option 3

Say no now, but yes for a time in the future. Use this option when you are truly interested in participating, but you just cannot do so now. Your statement may be, "I'm under deadline for the next two weeks, but the next time the fundraising event comes around, I would be happy to participate."

Option 4

Ask for the request in writing. Conversations often happen when your calendar is not in front of you. Before committing, you must get all the details and check your availability. Here is a friendly way to respond: "I can't trust my memory. Could you give me a quick note so that I can think about it and check my calendar? Thank you." This way, the responsibility is on the requester. Many requests will go away because people will not even take the time to drop you a note. For those who do drop you a line, you can then check your calendar, your interest and make a thoughtful decision.

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: Visit us at: call: 1-800-599-8463.

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