3 Steps and Tips to Say: No

Time Management
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Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

3 Steps and Tips to Say: No

As a professional you're actively managing your time and the tasks and goals you work on. This does mean that at some point you will have to say "No" to requests made upon you by other people. You probably already have more tasks than you can perform...

Unfortunately for many people, saying no is hard. They should learn to say goodbye to being a people pleaser and learn how to confidently say no to someone without feeling bad about it. Luckliy, saying "No" is a skill which you can learn and practice. Here are 3 straightforward steps for saying "No" in approximate order:
  • STEP 1. AVOID AN IMPULSIVE REACTION. Buy some time and first do a quick Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) of the task you are asked to perform, considering your goals and values. That includes the opportunity cost (the cost of not doing the task). Whether you actually like the task, or the person making the request, should not dominate your choice.
  • STEP 2. KEEP IT SHORT. Be firm when you express the "No", but give a short explanation and be courteous to the person making the request. Don't offer weak excuses or beat around the bush. And don't fall into the trap of wanting to be “nice” and avoid hurting other people’s feelings. Remember you are saying no to the request, not to the person. If the person who is asking you to perform the task is your manager, it makes sense to give a more comprehensive explanation, and be more open for discussion. You might share the main points of your CBA with him/her and ask for his/her opinion.
  • STEP 3. OPTIONALLY you can offer some (limited) help or coaching or another alternative to the person you just said "No" to. But again: only if it is worth that effort from you. Do not fall into the trap of using many words, starting to apologize, appearing insecure, etc.!

Practice the above 3 steps a couple of times (in front of a mirror and with a friend) and pay particular attention to your body language and facial expressions during the process. You want to appear firm and kind at the same time. Have a bit of fun and remember Warren Buffett famous words:
"The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything".
Jonathan Alpert, "7 Tips for Saying No Effectively", Inc.com
Christina Park, "Five Guilt-Free Tips For Saying 'No'", Forbes.com
Amy Gallo, "Saying No to More Work", HBR OnPoint, Winter 2018, pp. 28-29
BBC Worklife, "Why saying ‘no’ will boost your career"

  Brian Mitchell
Partner, United States

Saying No: Not Always Easy, But Always Worth It

I like this simple (but not always easy) approach and agree with being firm, short and to the point and offering some (alternative) assistance if not too imposing for you. BOUNDARIES are difficult for...

  Maurice Hogarth
Consultant, United Kingdom

Just Say No, if You Can

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  Jolanta Sz
Professor, Poland

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@ Jolanta Sz: Many of my customers require immediate action. Sleeping over it is not an option....

  Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

Saying no to a Client

@Anonymous: This topic so far was not aimed at a client or prospect relation, but rather on saying “no” to your boss, colleague, peer or friend. You are right that in external requests other dynamics ...


The Ability to Say 'No' to a Request

To say "no" you must be morally upright and be firm to stand on your two legs to say NO and that's why saying "no" mostly its for those who can think critically....

  Olaf de Hemmer
Business Consultant, France

Say NO (or YES) Without Hurting The Other

Saying 'NO' is not that hard. What is hard is not to hurt the person who asked... Saying 'YES' can also be hard, for the person who says it without protecting his own interest! The Interactifs Disci...

  Sridhar Gopal
Management Consultant, India

Saying No is a Virtue in the Right Circumstances

I never had the guts to say No while I was a loyal manager to my upper management-and accepted every new recruitment decision to my enterprise solutions group. This many times costed us the rejection ...

  Bill Hassey
Professor, United States

Saying No... with Options

There are so many times we are called on to "do" something and we are swamped by what we have committed ourselves to doing already. What I have found useful is what I thought of as "No...". Let me exp...


Saying NO to your 'boss'

I like these steps and hope they also work for every employee who is overloaded with tasks not related to his main duties by a boss who does not understand anything of what he does....

  Pierre Accari
Consultant, Lebanon

Saying No and Being Assertive

There is a good book about the subject. It is titled "When I Say No I Feel Guilty" by Manual J. Smith. It teaches people to say no and be assertive....

  Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

Saying NO to your 'boss'

@Anonymous: I think in your situation the steps still apply. In this situation it's important you think over what YOU can do to inform your boss better about what you are doing and what are the effect...

  Maurice Hogarth
Consultant, United Kingdom

Managing your Manager Assertively

@Anonymous: It would seem that there is a need for you to say yes or no to your situation. Learning to manage your manager includes the points made in the messages above. You could clarify in writin...


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