Did you know that there are more than five billion Google search results for the phrase “how to say no”? Clearly, it’s a question that’s on a lot of people’s minds.
Most of us have an innate desire to help others, which can make it difficult to say no when we’re met with a request. We might feel guilty about not lending a hand. We might worry if we turn down a colleague’s idea that they may be less inclined to connect in the future – or, that they might say no to the next offer we present to them.
However, no is a powerful, important word, and perhaps surprisingly, it can also be considered positive. Saying no can help you stay focused. It can give you time to thoughtfully complete meaningful and essential work. It can clear your calendar for family and friends. It can also mean the difference between the success or failure of a project.
Inspired by my colleague Sharon Taylor’s recent blog on candor, I wanted to share tips on the topic because I believe that getting comfortable with saying no – and learning to do so effectively – is a vital part of creating an honest, transparent and positive culture.
A WEapproach™ to Saying No
It can feel scratchy to tell someone that you can’t help them with a project or that you believe their idea would take the team in the wrong direction. To make it easier, I recommend adjusting your approach to meet the needs of their preferred ways of Thinking and Behaving.
When you tap into your colleagues’ mindsets and approach the situation in a way that resonates with them, you will be much more likely to get your point across effectively and in a way that they can respect and appreciate.
From the Analytical perspective:
- Explain the reasoning behind your decision to say no
- Bring in any data and credible sources that may have informed your choice
As an example, consider how you might use or adapt the following phrase to connect with this preference:
I will need to pass on this project because it doesn’t connect with our team’s goals for the quarter.
From the Structural Attribute:
- Dive into the details and be clear about your decision
- Connect your reasoning back to other deadlines, processes or projects that require your focus
Try using this example to connect with the Structural preference:
I have several deadlines for our upcoming CRM migration that I need to stay on top of. In order to keep my commitments, I can’t help with your project.
From the Social preference:
- Empathize with the person and their interests
- Share how your decision impacts others
Consider how you might adapt these phrases:
Thank you for thinking of me. While I’d like to help, I can’t participate in the project and complete the work my team needs me to do. Please don’t hesitate to reach out in the future though.
From the Conceptual perspective:
- Relate your decision back to the big picture
- Discuss long-term implications of the proposed idea or concept
Try using this statement as a starting point:
Your request doesn’t align with the overall goals and vision of my department. At this point, I need to focus on those priorities in order to meet our long-term objectives.
From the lens of Expressiveness:
- From the first-third: Give them time to think about your response and come back later with any questions
- From the third-third: Give them an opportunity to process your decision externally
Think about the delivery of your response with these examples.
For someone with a preference for first-third Expressiveness, your response may be best received in an email whereas a colleague in the third-third of Expressiveness will likely prefer if you meet in person to discuss your decision.
From the lens of Assertiveness:
- From the first-third: Be courteous and kind in how you phrase your response
- From the third-third: Get to the point so there isn’t any confusion that you are saying no
Consider these statements as you meet with your colleagues.
Someone in the first-third of Assertiveness may appreciate a statement like “I’ve come to realize that I can’t help with this project” while someone in the third-third will likely be comfortable with a more direct approach like: “I can’t take on this project.”
From the lens of Flexibility:
- From the first-third: Stand firm in your decision
- From the third-third: Offer ideas to move forward without you or ways their proposal could be improved upon
Try using these statements as you frame your decision:
For someone in the first-third of Flexibility, consider variations on the phrase “A decision was made to move forward with our product launch, so I can’t take on another project.” Someone in the third-third of Flexibility may receive your “no” better if you offer a comment like “While I can’t work on this project, I’m happy to share two ideas to strengthen your proposal so you can carry it forward.”
Saying no may feel scratchy at first. As you practice building skill and using these tips to guide your conversations, you’ll find that it gets easier – and your team members will grow to appreciate your considerate approach to communication and their ideas.
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