How well can you say ‘No’?

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As a management mentor, one of the most common challenges I see when working with others, is the ability to say ‘No’. It’s not specific to gender or age, it seems to be a challenge that we all face at one time or another. Being polite is easy, saying sorry and often apologising when we have done nothing wrong, however, such a small word as ‘No’ can be the hardest word to say when faced with a challenge. So we say yes to more overtime when we really wish for time with our families. We say yes to have lunch with someone who we find a negative influence. We say yes to going out with friends socialising when a quiet night in with a book or our favourite programme was our preferred choice of evening pastime.

Why do we let the word ‘No’ become so huge? Why do we believe it will be a challenging situation if we use it? Everyone feels under pressure these days to be able to achieve more with less however that often makes using the word ‘No’ even harder for fear of losing our jobs, or our partners, so we deny what we are really doing. The only way that anything will be achieved is with honesty. Every time we say yes when we really mean ‘No’ we paint an unrealistic picture of who we are and what we need to achieve and our productivity becomes less. We get frustrated with ourselves and add greater stress to everything we are trying to achieve.

Here are 3 steps to saying ‘No’ and still being polite…

Step 1

  • Listen to what is being said or conveyed, then show the other person that you both hear and understand them by reflecting back

This forces you to focus on other person – not prepare a counter-attack, to empathise and understand even if you don’t agree.  

Reflecting Back’

  • From what you say it seems that…..
  • So you’re concerned that…..
  • So you feel unhappy about….
  • I get the impression that you feel…..
  • It sounds as though you’re worried about…
  • I expect you’re thinking that….
  • I imagine you feel…..
  • I can see that you are….
  • I can understand why you think I’m….. 

Step 2

  • Say what you think or feel

Directly state your thoughts and feelings without apology or insistence.  Use ‘however’ instead of ‘but’ to link steps 1 and 2  

Step 3

  • Say what you want to happen

Indicate what action or outcome you would like, that takes into account what you have heard from the other person

Spend 20% of the time on the problem and 80% on the solution. Work towards a compromise that will meet the needs of both parties. Everyone has needs that must be fulfilled to achieve. It is unrealistic and counterproductive to just battle on! Everyone has a unique set of skills to achieve however it is when we come together collaborate and pool our skills that really great things happen. Remember those around you are there to support you and good luck.

About the Author

Sian Stephens MCMI | The Peer Support Network |

sian stephens headshot Sian is a leadership and management development mentor.
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