How to Say 'No' the Right Way and, Yes, There Is a Right Way
A Note From The Editor
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We all need to say “no” sometimes. However, "no” can be quite a challenge. A no that's poorly stated can be alienating, harmful, disruptive and damaging to both personal and professional relationships. Oftentimes, turning down someone's request can be an awkward affair, and unintentionally offensive.
As a result, some people just can’t bring themselves to say the word. Alternately, they may resist saying “no” until they can't bear it any longer, finally blurting out no! with resentment or rage.
Obviously, such extremes lead to an unfavorable outcome. That's why it’s important to develop the ability to say no in a positive manner.
The first step of an artful rejection, then, is to come across with respect and kindness. Though some will say no with overflowing, heartfelt empathy, heavy emotion isn't required. Instead, a healthy rejection can be done simply, with a firm look and respectful tone of voice. To be genuine and convincing, your "no" must also be done in a manner consistent with your own unique personality and style.
You'll do well to reflect upon this, considering the different possibilities. For example, you might sandwich your “no” between two positive statements. When expressed well, with the proper tone and attitude, your denial of someone’s wishes may actually gain that person's friendship and respect.
I once witnessed a “no” voiced so artfully that the memory has stuck with me for decades. We were in a large gathering hall when my friend Bob approached a well-known financial manager we had never met. During their initial small talk, I was struck by how polite and kind the manager was. When Bob asked if he would be willing to manage Bob’s account, the manager kindly inquired, “How large an account are we talking about?”
And here Bob’s response, about a meager sum, elicited the following answer: “Bob, I would love to. However, we have a certain minimum amount. We can only handle larger accounts. But I would love to work with you, perhaps in the future.” Not only were the manager’s words kind, but his tone was heartwarming, as was the sincerity in his eyes. You immediately felt honored and humbled in his presence, overflowing, almost, with admiration.
Many people agonize over the idea of having to say “no.” Unsure how to frame it, they torment over it for days. After all, who knows where the conversation will go or how the other person will respond? The simple solution: Open Pandora’s box. Start the conversation with a sentence and then feel your way through the rest of it, doing your best to stay settled in yourself.
If you are like most people, you have far more wisdom and creativity than you are willing to acknowledge. Put yourself in those uncomfortable situations and hold steady. Just stay steady within yourself and you will find a way.
In saying no, you might further pay attention to timing, which can be critical. Procrastinating can lead to mounting tension, causing the situation to worsen. When this happens, the situation has already been compromised. Delays can cause negative feelings to fester. And while it’s true that some situations are so delicate you can never find a good time to say no, just try to find the best time. Create the opportunity to voice the rejection or refusal in the most respectful and honest way possible.
Remember, too, that timing in language is also important: Pauses can make all the difference. They give you the opportunity to choose your words carefully. They present a moment to monitor how the other person is responding. Getting comfortable with silent moments and even using them as a tool is an important part of learning to say no effectively, and for that matter, in communication generally.
Sometimes, it is good to precede your no with context -- a description of the situation or a story. It is almost as if you're explaining the “no” before you say it. When done well, the rejection or refusal will be self-evident and hardly needs to be said.
Being able to say no artfully, then, is a skill, an art that requires time to cultivate. At first, you will likely stumble, but just keep trying. The main thing to remember is to stay settled, stable and calm within yourself. Be sure to pay attention to the person and how he or she is responding.
From there, you'll just have to feel your way and trust in yourself. The possibilities are endless, but the basic principles given here are all you need to get started.