How to Effectively Say No (Part 2 of 3)
Learn models for saying no.
by Lisa B. Marshall and Ana Gaby Gonzalez
Mahatma Ghandi said, "A ‘No’ uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please or what is worse, to avoid trouble.” Today we’ll continue with part two of our three-part article on how to say no. If you haven’t already read part one, you might want to do that first.
How to Say No (Part 2)
I believe the ability to say no effectively is a skill that’s critical to personal and professional success. It’s essential for focus and discipline. Every day, sometimes several times a day, we have to say no so that we are able to say yes to the things that are really important to us.
Am I capable of successfully performing this particular task?
To be able to answer this question, first evaluate how much time is involved. Try to be as realistic as possible, taking into consideration invisible tasks. Then consider everything that you are currently doing and how much time you have to dedicate to a new task. Notice that is different from asking, can I add it to my schedule? If your available time doesn’t fit the size of the task, then say no. If it’s important to you, consider alternatives that would still allow you to participate or contribute to the task but on a smaller scale so that it can fit your schedule.
For example, instead of being the PTA vice-president or a room parent, commit to helping with just one activity, such as volunteering to set up chairs in the gym on back-to-school night. The objective is to properly size the effort (again if it is something that is consistent with your values and goals) and say yes only to what you’re able to effectively complete.
Think About Your Own Abilities
Before answering this question you should also think about your skill set. Is what you’re being asked to do something that you’re good at? If not, perhaps a more effective use of time would be to do something else and politely pass along this task to someone else.
Keep in mind that the main goal of going through this self-quiz is to help you say no. When you know exactly when and why you’ll want to yes, it makes it far easier to say no--and much easier to sustain a no in the face of resistance.
You might be saying “Well, yes, Lisa, I know I should say no, but I don’t want to damage my relationship (with my boss, with my prospect, my father, my grandmother, with my significant other, etc.) So the key is to learn how to say no without damaging important relationships. So let me share with you a few models that you can use.
How to Effectively Say No
Perhaps the most popular model is from William Ury, PhD, author of The Power of a Positive No (he also wrote Getting to Yes and Getting Past No). He suggests following a “Yes. No. Yes.” model.
[[AdMiddle]The first “yes” states what you’ve already said yes to: “I’ve recently made a commitment to supervise the new team,” or “I really love the new photographs we got at the portrait studio last week”.
The “no” then follows: “Unfortunately, my new team responsibilities have significantly filled my schedule,” or “So, I don’t think we need to buy your school pictures this year.”
The last “yes” is meant to soften the tension by showing your concern for the person even though you’re saying no: “But I’d love to help you find someone who can fill in,” or “But if you want, you can still get dressed up on school picture day and we can take photos with the camera Maya gave you. It’ll be fun.”
Notice the idea is to offer an attractive alternative that still somehow helps the other person. Ury refers to this as “building a golden bridge.”
Other Ways to Effectively Say No
There will also be times when you want to not only say no, but also completely detach from the request and not offer some sort of compromise. In those cases, I suggest trying this model:
Brief apology + No + Thank you.
Keep it simple and direct. “I’m sorry. I have a previous commitment, but thanks for trusting me to take on that responsibility.” You don’t always need to provide a detailed reason—especially if the reason for declining is personal. A simple, “I’m sorry, I can’t. Thanks for asking” is not only sufficient, it’s better. Just always remember to be polite—not just because it’s mannerly, but because you don’t want to damage the relationship by being impolite.
This is The Public Speaker, Lisa B. Marshall, with Ana Gaby Gonzalez, passionate about communication your success is my business. Thanks to Ana Gaby for co-writing this episode with me.
Interested in co-writing an episode with me? Send me a sample of your writing.