Decline, Deny, Refuse: Say No Like a Pro

Decline, Deny, Refuse: Say No Like a Pro

More often than we’d like to admit, we agree to do things because we don’t want to be rude, ungracious, or mean. Friends ask us to lend them money, bosses ask us to do personal tasks for them, store clerks mess up our orders (and we feel bad speaking up). From giving away money to street hawkers to letting our cable company get the best of us, the real victim here is our wallet. Saying no is neither rude nor ungracious…as long as you say it correctly.

Studies have shown that women are significantly less likely to say no or to negotiate than men. For advice, we consulted an expert: Marilyn Suttle, work/life success coach.

Give Yourself Time to Think

Instead of saying yes when you want to say no, tell the asker that you will get back to her. Giving yourself time to think allows you to find out what you truly want to do. Plus, you’re less likely to be pressured into a “yes” if the other person knows that you gave the request some genuine consideration. Next time a coworker asks if you can finish up her report for her, simply say that you’re not sure if you have time and need to look at your schedule.

Instead of Saying “I Can’t,” Say “It Won’t Work for Me”

Saying, “I can’t” may cause you to squirm because you probably could … but don’t want to. Instead, say, “It won’t work for me.” If asked why, you can respond, “It just won’t.” If you wish, feel free to add, “But here’s what will work…”

When someone asks you to cover her shift at work or go out of your way when you don’t want to, simply state that that won’t work for you and, if you can, offer a consolation prize. (“It won’t work for me to take over your shift, but I’ll answer the phone at work if it rings for you.”)

Make “No” a Choice

They say: “Want to come to office drinks tonight? I know you just got off of a cross-country flight, but what you need is a cocktail—you have to come!”
You reply: “Thanks, but I’d rather not.”

Make no easier by turning an “I have to say yes” into “I choose to say yes.” When you think you have to do something, you’re usually fooling yourself. Even though it may result in extreme consequences, you don’t have to do anything. Every “yes” and “no” is a choice, and each choice comes with its own set of consequences.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Direct

Excuses are not necessary. We are in the age of authenticity. If your friend asks whether you’d like to go spinning together, it’s okay to simply say no. Not only can little white lies and lame excuses be spotted a mile away, but they also make you come across fake and jeopardize your integrity.

Replace “I Can’t” With “Here’s What I Can Do”

When someone is asking too much of you—and you’re not comfortable saying no—replace your negative response with, “Here’s what I can do…” and offer something that will not leave you feeling pressured, burdened, or resentful.

At the end of the day, people asking favors of you are asking favors, not making demands. If the person asking you for something unreasonable is your superior, be polite but firm, and speak in the affirmative—what you can do—rather than making the conversation sound negative.


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