Saying the word “no” to a request made by someone important to you can be riddled with all sorts of negativity unless it is delivered with finesse and diplomacy. Most people do not relish hearing the word “no” and may react to your reply with an array of feelings such as hurt, displeasure, disappointment, resentment, anger, and indignation. No wonder saying “no” can make us feel somewhat hesitant and uncomfortable.
Before blurting out the word “no” to a request, take a step back to consider these points:
Evaluate the expectations.
Before making a commitment, learn as much as you can about what the request entails. Ask the requestor for specific details that include such factors as when, why, where, how, and what.
Identify the pros and cons.
Once you have the facts in hand, carefully weigh out what the request might mean for you. Start with the benefits but factor them out against the limitations that make it disadvantageous for you.
Acknowledge your feelings.
Your feelings about a request are important. Determine what they are and how they might fit into your final response. Be sure to look at the bigger picture. Just because a request is appealing, it may not be worth the consequences. Conversely, something you have no desire to do might surprise you with rewarding outcomes.
Be prepared to negotiate.
There may be room to offer an alternative solution to your requestor. If you are unwilling to accept the request as initially outlined, perhaps you may be able to provide an option that is palatable to all parties involved.
Execute your response.
If your answer is “no”, plan out how best to deliver the message with minimal chance for backlash. Keep your response simple and to the point. Most likely, if you try to overexplain or apologize, you will aggravate the situation. Less is better here.
Stand your ground.
If you start to waive on your response, you will appear to be weak and indecisive. This will open you up as fair game for others to pressure you into changing your mind. Be decisive, and you will avoid unnecessary repercussions in the future.
What are the best ways to simply say “no” and mean it?
- I appreciate the offer, but I can’t.
- Sounds nice, but I am not available.
- Thanks for including me, but I can’t.
- I am honored that you asked me, but I can’t do it.
- No thank you, but it sounds lovely.
- Thanks…maybe another time.
- Unfortunately, I’ll have to pass this time.
- No thanks, I have another commitment.
- Unfortunately, it’s not a good time.
- I’ve got too much on my plate right now, but thanks.
- Thanks, but no thanks.
Food for thought:
It can be incredibly difficult to say “no” to people you care about or others who have a significant influence over you (like a boss). Think before you say “no” to them but still say something. Your tact in delivering a “no” is far better than keeping the requestor hanging on for your response. Your safest approach is to quickly respond and move on.
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Written by: Patricia K. Flanigan, Smart Strategies for Successful Living
Patricia K. Flanigan has worked in higher education for over 28 years. She holds a doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of La Verne as well as a M.A. in Latin American Studies and B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before retiring and moving to Idaho in 2015, she served as the dean of online education and learning resources at Saddleback College, a large community college in Southern California. She currently consults in higher education, volunteers for AARP, writes for a local magazine, and serves as an Affiliate Faculty member at Boise State University and a contributing member to LEARN Idaho. Since February 2017, she has been the founding director for Smart Strategies for Successful Living, a community-based website designed to promote quality aging. As an educator, her focus is to inspire others to live and age well.
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