The Best Way To Say No

Suzette BrawnerGeneral

“No.” “Nope.” “Never.” “Not going to happen.” These are powerful and discouraging words depending on if you’re saying them or hearing them. Every day we have to say “No” to employees, kids, contractors, clients, and the Girl Scouts and their cookies. We’re also on the receiving end of “No” and we don’t like it. It can be frustrating and sometime even embarrassing depending on how “No” is dealt with.

Our first and natural response when told just plain “No” without explanation or clarification is to immediately become defensive. Knowing how that feels should be great instruction on how to say “No” without knocking the wind out of the one you have to decline.

Here are some reminders for when you have to say “No”:

  • If someone is requesting money for the local animal shelter or time volunteering to plant trees in the community, why do we instantly feel threatened? Probably because if we don’t give we might look like animal haters and if we don’t volunteer we come across as bad citizens. Get over yourself; strangers don’t think about you that much. Smiling, simply say something like, ”Wow, I really appreciate what you are doing for _______________. I know it takes a lot, but I’m going to have to say no. Again, thanks for all you do.” You just said “No” and they feel good about what they are doing.
  • When an idea is suggested in a meeting you’re in charge of, listen carefully as if it’s the most important thing you’ve heard in a long time. No matter how far out or ridiculous it sounds, never instantly say, ”No, that will never work.” Think of a positive comment even if it’s only, ”Now that’s an idea.” Many times people are thinking out loud without considering details. Never squash creativity, because the thought out and formulated idea may be a winner.
  • When permission is being requested and not just, “No” but “No Way” is the first response, hold on. Whether it’s a teen wanting to go to a party or an employee requesting to change departments, ask the person requesting to explain why they want what they think they want. After thinking through and sharing their explanation, often they will realize why it’s not a good idea. They feel validated for having been heard and in control because they came to the conclusion on their own. You won’t have to say anything.

If you do have to say “No” put yourself in the shoes of the person hearing it. Always remember to say it in the kindest, easiest-to-receive way because that’s how you’d like to hear it yourself.