Just Say "No"
by Dianna Booher

We all like people who say "yes."  They smile a lot.  They have a certain hop in their step.  They always seem to have a positive air about them.  "Yes-people" are fun to be around.

Unfortunately, at times, we all have to say "no." 

"No-people" often frown.  They tend to limp instead of walk. They seem to shuffle around with a dark cloud over them.  They take to heart the words of Sophocles, "None love the messenger who brings bad news."

But it needn't be that way.  Saying "no" doesn't have to be an arduous, unpleasant ordeal; it can be a direct statement of your thoughts and desires, delivered honestly and professionally. 

Besides, while people who always say "yes" tend to be popular, they also tend to be surrounded by cluttered desks, overbooked schedules, and agitated coworkers.

Forewarn people when you have devastating news.  When delivering unexpected bad news, warn the person by preparing them for it.  It can be as simple as, "I'm going to have to give you some bad news." 

Such an outright statement lets people prepare mentally and emotionally for the upset.  During the adjustment time, their hearts and minds can make the necessary preparations for handling the news.

Be firm, fair, and nonjudgmental.  There should be no doubt that your "no" means "no."  Not "maybe."   Not "I'm not sure."  But "no." You don't have to give lengthy explanations or excuses for your answer unless you feel compelled to.  If you know the person well or
feel comfortable in doing so, you can expound on your response, but it's not mandatory.  They have the right to ask for your help, and you have the right to say "no."

If the request is something you don't approve ethically or morally, don't feel compelled to pass judgment on their request.  Simply respond, "No, I don't feel comfortable supporting that position," or "Thank your for your consideration in asking me to join you, but I've decided not to."

Find a kernel of good in the bad.  Not all "no's" are created equal.  And though some are more devastating than others, there is always a softer way of putting things.  Point out "it's better you know of my unavailability now so you can start looking for an alternate
choice."  Or mention they can "take comfort in knowing their department is the first to know the decision and won't be caught by surprise like the others."

Suggest that all has not been lost - there may be information or insights that can be salvaged from the experience.  Look hard for the grain of good.

Let the facts speak for themselves.  Show rather than tell.

When delivering a "no," reinforce your decision with the numbers and results in black and white.  This tactic distances you from the situation.  If the individual or group doubts your information, welcome their comments about doing their own investigation.

There is a reason for your response, right?  Show it.

"I simply can't take on another assignment.  My time and workload are already stretched to the max.  I'm afraid if I spread myself too thinly, not only will this job be done poorly but my other work will suffer as well."

Offer alternatives and exceptions for which you'd change your mind.  If you can't help the other person with their bad news, suggest alternatives.  Consider the results the requester is seeking and think of other ways to meet those needs or criteria.  "I can't make tomorrow's meeting, but maybe my assistant can attend and offer insights on the project."  Or "I don't think I can handle all that responsibility myself, but if you provided additional support staff, I'm sure we could get the job done."

What you're saying is that at this time and under these circumstances, you're saying "no," but at another time and under different circumstances, you might have a different answer.

Deliver worse news in person.  Don't hide behind messengers and mediums - e-mail, memos, press releases, or rumors.  The worse the news, the more important it is you deliver it in person. Not only will the individual or group be disappointed at the bad news, they'll resent your lack of courage in delivering it face to face. 

Courage shows itself most noble in the face of adversity.

Remember the wisdom of Shakespeare, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."  Though you'll have to say "no" on occasion, it doesn't have to be painful or negative experience.  Your attitude, approach, and expertise in handling these situations can show you to be an assertive, honest, and professional worker.


Author/speaker Dianna Booher is CEO of Booher Consultants, a Dallas-based communications training firm. Her programs include communication (writing, oral presentations, interpersonal, customer service communications, gender, listening, meetings, conflict) and life balance/productivity. She has published 40 books, including E-Writing: 21st-Century Tools for Effective Communication (Pocket Books, February 2001), Communicate with Confidence! (McGraw-Hill), and The Esther Effect (Nelson-Word). Several have been major Book Club selections.
Call 817.868.1200; and visit www.booher.com.

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